A Project Doomed From the Start: Analyzing a Disastrous Website Launch - NP GROUP

This web project failed from day one. Why and how did it happen?

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A Project Doomed From the Start: Analyzing a Disastrous Website Launch

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A Project Doomed From the Start: Analyzing a Disastrous Website Launch
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Okay… First off, this is my first post in a few weeks – we've been swamped on some exciting changes here at NP Group. More on that another time, but accept my apologies for my tardiness in getting a new post out to you.

Secondly, I need to make a disclaimer immediately before you proceed further on this post. I promise to stay non-political. But the subject matter is just that – a politically motivated figure. I'm looking at this story from a non-partisan lens, however, and you should too.

This is a story about a lousy implementation, a build-out gone awry from seemingly the very start. The subject? Frank Lindell, or the "My Pillow Guy." You see, Frank has become quite the figure due to his support of the previous President. Again, this is a non-political post, but I'm sure his reputation is already known, and most of you know what his positions are.

In recent months, Frank got to work on a new website that he described as a social media platform. According to a Business Insider story in March, Frank described it as "not like anything you've ever seen." He was somewhat correct because the site is riddled with errors, and recently, experts have stated that it isn't even up to the quality of student work.

In fact, Salon asked some Drupal experts what their thoughts were on the website, and the sentiments expressed were not favorable. You can read that story yourself, but I'm in agreement after having looked at it. This project was doomed from the start and plagued by a variety of errors.

So, let's look at what went wrong.

The Platform is Completely Wrong

"In my professional opinion, it will be extremely unlikely, if not impossible, for Lindell to accomplish his vision with Drupal and his own servers" – this was the quote of an Acquia-certified Drupal Grand Master. He's absolutely correct, and I'm so happy to hear him say it. A sophisticated website that expects large amounts of user-generated content, or UGC, should never be built on a platform that is primarily defined as a content management system first.

Drupal is a great content management system, but it is not a coding framework, nor is it a foundation for building sophisticated custom applications. Almost any qualified developer will tell you this. The problem is when you hire a non-qualified "developer" who only knows one thing and thinks it can do anything. I suspect that's what happened here. As of writing this, I'm unsure if he had his own developers or hired a firm. He had indicated in the past that he had a 10-person team working on the site, which I find entirely unbelievable. Most likely, it was more like an individual or two and some support staff, and all they knew was Drupal. The site has a link to a developer in its footer, and that site loads on a SquareSpace domain - that alone should give you some idea of the quality of their work. And yes, it's on a SquareSpace domain - not just a SquareSpace site! Anyway, that mystery will continue, but in the meantime, we can rest assured that he did not seek out talent that could evaluate all options and present only the best, most viable options for powering such an enterprise.

Best Bad Practices Followed

In reading through the Salon story, the Drupal experts point out a few things that definitely set off alarm bells. First off, the fact that the site went live in development mode. That's about as easy to fix as possible – and they just forgot to literally check a box. There was also mention of the fact that the site outputted server error messages. This is a big negative because most error messages also expose file system information. This can lead to security issues later as would-be attackers have gained some information about the server and its configuration.

Bugs are often like mice. If you find a mouse in your house, there are probably a few more lingering somewhere. Same story here – there is no way that there aren't additional issues under the hood. I'm willing to bet this means that user data, or personal information, is at risk as well. And this isn't something outside the realm of Frank's understanding – he even said himself that the site was a target:

The website is "going to be the most attacked. I expect that," he said, adding: "I'm attacked daily by bots and trolls and hackers. My company gets attacked all the time." [Business Insider]

Given that knowledge – how could he allow something like this to happen? Well, the fact is, he just doesn't know how the internet works, and he definitely didn't seek out people who did.

Money Doesn't Buy Everything

I've seen some evidence that this website cost him dearly. In fact, a user posted these proposal terms, which detail a hosting environment with a price tag of nearly one million US Dollars. That is crazy!

But despite apparently throwing money at this, it came out awful in almost every regard. Wrong tech choice, bad implementation, and a design that is, well, weak – but we'll get to that in a second. It turns out that throwing money at a problem in the digital industry doesn't assure you of a proper fix.

Now, I'm sure that there were a host of issues with him finding the proper help. Let's face it, many in the digital development world skew to the opposite end of the political spectrum. If you look back at previous conservative websites and applications, it isn't unusual to find that they were poorly engineered. Granted, this can happen to left-leaning organizations, too – anyone remember the Iowa Caucuses? But, on the whole, we see that conservative digital properties carry less sophistication. Parler is a spectacular example.

Even despite the industry leaning in one direction, there is no excuse for this sort of malpractice. He simply procured or hired the wrong folks.

No Checks and Balances

If a product like this was allowed to be deployed, there was not a project team in place, and most definitely not an independent project manager or advisor. And if there was, that person should be ashamed of themselves. When your project starts to push price points nearing or exceeding one million dollars, you absolutely need an impartial consultant to ensure that Everything is being spent and utilized correctly. I'm willing to bet no such person existed in this case because there is no way that a party independent of the developers would allow such a website to be deployed to the public in such a state.

It Looks Awful

Yes, I understand that design is in the eyes of the beholder. But this site looks awful. It follows no particular design system. It isn't in line with any sort of current trends. I'm unsure who thought this looked good. Some astute folks on Reddit pointed out that a guy who possibly developed the site has another Drupal site with almost the same design. This means that they didn't develop any aspects of the backend but also reused the front-end from another project. It's incredible, isn't it?

My Take?

My suspicion is that poor Frank was sold a bill of goods and became the victim of shoddy development and flawed project planning out of ignorance. It happens all the time in the digital world. The fact is, modern technology could've crafted a system to do almost all of this, at a fraction of the cost and much more reliably. It's worth noting that the first iterations of virtually every popular social network cost substantially less than Frank spent on this site. Frank took the approach of throwing money at the project and most likely underestimated the complexity of adequately deploying a digital property. Judging by how things are going, he'll keep paying for this mistake until he finds someone capable of actually building it right. By then, however, he may just give up.

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