If the financial crisis, health care squabbles, and general
celebrity deaths of the of the past
few months have caused you to forget, next year is a census year. And a newly launched website,
2010census.gov, has been developed to make sure Americans are ready, and to
conveniently address their questions, concerns, and paranoiac fears about being
The site is part of the Census Bureau’s campaign to “reach
every resident in America” and plays up the Census as a way for everyone to
participate in democracy.
To accomplish that mission the site boats some big features.
A huge Flash marquee takes over most of the front page—a landscape picture from
the point of view of Lincoln surveying the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument.
"The heart of the new website is the animated marquee that represents a cross-section of America," proclaims Dr. Robert M. Groves, Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, in a video on the site.
Mousing over the different people pops up frequently asked questions (text and audio) which are answered by a very calming man. But only if you keep your mouse perfectly still. Hover over the dot incorrectly and you'll be thrust into a different question, which creates a jarring effect that's somewhere between amusing and annoying. In either case, the message is lost, and users are left hoping for a simple FAQ list.
Then there's the problem of loading the entire animated marquee for the soundbites to work, and
it takes an unusually long time even by the standards of other Flash-heavy
sites. If you don't have broadband, you'll be waiting a very long time indeed.
Memo to Census: if you want to reach every resident in America, don’t
Beneath the marquee image is a link to a preview of the
ten-question 2010 Census form—one of the shortest in history!—with an
interactive picture that provides explanations for each part of the form. This page works well and is fairly
concise and informative, always answering the rhetorical “why does the
government need to know this?”
Other features include a media page with videos and expanded
text with info on privacy policies and why the census is important. In coming months the site will be translated into 23 languages.
While overall the site looks nice and contains plenty of in-plain-English answers to common questions, we gotta wonder how much was spent on developing the Flash-based animation that's hard to use even for the most Net savvy citizens. Though it may be contrary to Census math, sometimes less is more.