Saturday, January 23, 2010

Where Hope for Haiti Now Failed: Blew It With Technology

Like millions of others, I watched the Hope for Haiti Now on Friday, January 22.  I was moved by the stories and the video clips from Haiti.  I was inspired to help, as I have been since this tragedy struck. I don't care where the earthquake struck.  Tragedy is tragedy.  Politics at a time like this does not matter.  I was pleased I had the resources to be able to do something. I believe this Telethon was a good thing.  It was a little depressing.  I would have loved to have seen some musicians carry forth a few more upbeat and optimistic songs that carried a message of hope, but nevertheless, the show was impressive.

Until you tried to make a donation. 

I would like to know just how many more millions of dollars could have been made last night had Hope for Haiti Now been better prepared for the volume of phone calls.  If tens of millions of people can successfully vote for American Idol contestants, why wasn't it easier to get through on the phone lines?

But it got worse. Did you try to make an online gift? Impossible.  Whoever designed this website should be banished from the technology world forever.  I bet the 16 year old boy that lives next to me could have a designed a better, and more importantly, a more functional website.  I tried for hours to make a donation online only to be greeted by a message to try making a gift online later.  What???  Are you kidding me?  Were they so unprepared as not to imagine the volume of people that would try to make an online gift?  That was the epitome of bad technology planning.

So, my next attempt to make a donation was to go to one of the featured charities.  My next surprise was that not one of the charities was linked to this site.  In the words of my favorite ESPN broadcasters before Monday Night Football, "Come on, man!"  That is Web Design 101.  Perhaps they didn't hot link these because they wanted people to make donations on the Hope for Haiti Now page.  But really, that's just more bad management.  I would presume other people besides me wanted to read up on what the charities were doing in the relief effort.  No, that was impossible unless you had to navigate away from the site to search for these charities.

And that is exactly what I did.  I navigated away from the Hope for Haiti Now webpage to seek out these charities and see what they were doing.  They had fascinating stories, live blog posts, twitter feeds from Haiti, video messages, and detailed information about how gifts were to be used.  I made my choice there to support one of the charities directly and made my gift to Oxfam America, as I was particularly impressed by their efforts to provide just the basic necessities of live: water, shelter, sanitation, and food. A pop up window comes up immediately when you go to the site to make a gift. It was a seamless way to make a gift and to feel like you were making a difference.  I felt good about making my donation.  I never needed to go back to the Hope for Haiti Now website.

Hope for Haiti Now: Good concept, ridiculously bad planning in regard to use of technology. And if you wanted to take it further, Hope for Haiti Now wasn't doing anything to promote the use of social media. No mention of where to follow the Telethon. No mention of which celebrities were tweeting. No mention of where to become a Facebook fan.  Plain and simple, this Telethon missed the technology boat.  The sin of that knowing that countless people probably didn't make a donation.  What could have been a technology home run turned out to be a shanked foul ball. 

Side note: I just checked on the Hope for Haiti Now website and it has markedly improved. The donation system works and there is information about the global conversation on Twitter about the relief efforts and a link to the Facebook Cause page to make a donation. There is still no hot link to any of the featured charities though. That's really a shame, as Hope for Haiti Now could have done a much better job promoting the extraordinary efforts of these organizations.

Here's what I hope: Those people moved to give did what I did.  They sought out a place to make an online gift and gave as generously as possible. Whether it was to the Red Cross, the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund, Oxfam, Project Hope, Children's Miracle Network or dozens of other reputable charities doing God's work.  Giving was the right thing to do. I gave for the right reasons.  I just gave through an alternate route. I didn't give up.  And that's what I hope happens for the Haitian people -- that no one gives up.

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