healthcare.gov

As an information technology professional, when a web site has performance problems, I sigh, gnash my teeth, and gripe just like everyone else. However, twenty minutes later I realize I have been there and feel bad for those having to deal with the mess. Also, should I feel hurt that I am not among the nation’s brightest IT minds since I was not asked to help?

GeorgiaVIEW, one of the projects on which I work, has about four thousand active users on average and with topping out around 5-6 thousand week days and eight during an abnormal event. When users are having problems, they tend to come back which gives them a new session yet the old one has not expired, so the system deals with more and more sessions compounding a performance problem. Some of the descriptions people gave about having problems with healthcare.gov sounded like they came back over and over trying to enter.

The most annoying thing about the healthcare.gov problems though are the pundits. Early on, I heard they should have hired Silicon Valley companies to build the site as though IT people only come from there. They specifically named companies famous for their high profile meltdowns to build the health care exchange as experts in building huge sites without problems. Later came the small companies who build web sites for others, but not at this scale.

It is extremely difficult to build a site to the perfect scale. Overbuilding is expensive, so there is pressure to scale back. Business workflows are murky at best because until people use it, they really are unsure what it is they want. (They just know what was built is not right and why.)

Underground Back Channels

During first couple years at my first real job post-college, a friend of a friend would IM me questions about how to solve computer problems for which he could not figure out the answers. These requests started as me doing the work for him with dubious promises of doing the same for me. (I knew he’d gotten a job over his head and making 2.3x more than me. I also knew he did not know anything about my work and could not help me.) When I did not bite to do this, he shifted to giving him the answers and settled for all that I was willing to do: point him in the right direction. Having worked in a library, pointing patrons and friends in the right direction was something I was used to doing.

This conversation was not officially sanctioned by either of our employers. Neither of us told our bosses about these conversations. Was I leaking the intellectual capital of my employer? Was this friend of a friend leaking his employer’s intellectual capital to me? In any case, it would probably be considered an underground interaction. My boss at the time encouraged my professional participation on web technology email lists as helping others with my knowledge and experience gave me access to others who could do the same. The difference was the lists were sanctioned while the friend of a friend was not no matter how similar.

The Learning Black Market suggests students today use Facebook as a private back channel to classmates for pointers in the right direction on how to work on class assignments. They also secretly use Wikipedia despite it being forbidden as a source. When I was a student, the same sort of back channel activity for pointers would happen but face-to-face in the hallway was the preferred place not Facebook. Instead of Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica was the preferred first source. (Gosh, I am old.) Just like students today are told Wikipedia is not an allowable reference and not to ever use it yet they do anyway, EB was not an allowable reference and yet I saw my classmates using it to figure out terms that would help them find allowable references. Students today sometimes use Wikipedia for the same reason.

Educators want the students to take their time and deliberately work through the assignments the hard way so they learn the most through the process. Students want to get the assignment done in the least amount of time while still making a good grade. Educators lack the oversight to force students to behave except to detect plagiarism or cheating in the produced artifacts.

Because students are engaging in forbidden activity these conversations are underground. Well, the smart ones. Some are having these conversations on Twitter where one party of the conversation is not private and anyone (like a nosy DBA like myself) can see it. If they are used to quasi-cheating, does real cheating become easier? That might explain much of what I see.

A Blogosphere Ecology

This is an article a former coworker, Bernie Gunder, helped me write for Focus On, a guest topic section of Portico, a Valdosta State University paper.

A Blogosphere Ecology

My name is Ezra Freelove, ‘99, and I’m a 29-year-old self-professed computer geek and technology professional who spends more hours in front of a computer than I care to admit. So what could possibly compel me to still sit in front of a computer when I go home? No, it is not only to do more work when I get home. I am also a blogger. Blogging took the world by storm a few years ago, me included. You may even know a blogger or two.

About five years ago a friend at UGA, Lacey Gerard, ’01, started me on this time consuming hobby. She showed me a web page she started at Pitas.com. I started a site there as well out of sheer curiosity. It was a good way to keep up with a friend 4 hours away in another city. Soon I found myself spending 10-20 hours a week blogging—reading friends’ blogs, posting on my own site and consuming all the blogosphere had to offer. My pastime has developed in to a mini obsession; at last count my blog subscriptions totaled more than 300. I relish reading blogs about the technology industry, science and geekdom in general. For instance, Mike McBride at http://mikemcbrideonline.com/ writes about his daily trials in “Life of a one-man IT department”. Just as in everyday life, my online interests vary. My armchair coaching of Manchester United is encouraged by http://fcmanu.blogspot.com/. Some wonder why I am not an attorney in copyright law based on how excited I get from reading Ernie the Attorney at http://www.ernietheattorney.net/ or http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/. I watch for the wonderful photos posted at http://fiftymillimeter.com/ and http://wvs.topleftpixel.com/. At one point I even frequented a blog about conversations someone overheard while riding the bus every day. The one constant in my blogging experience has been maintaining and developing friendships.

My friends and I have found blogging to be a great way to keep in touch. Over the years we have consistently read and commented about each others’ entries. We have shared the changing events of our lives and provided eclectic insights on various topics. We both post tons of photos, share funny stories and post random thoughts. Leading up to their wedding, Lacey at http://lay-c.com/log/ http://gerards.tumblr.com/ and Myk (no longer active) both wrote extensively regarding all the work involved and excitement they felt. Another friend, George at http://lay-c.com/george/ http://www.toastforbrekkie.com/, works for NASA and provides great food for thought. Two recent alumna of VSU, Michelle and Sarah, both ’05, wrote about their struggles to find a good job after graduation and entering the real world. The majority of my friends who have blogs post about the every day things: going to class or work, redecorating their houses, taking a great trip somewhere, or attending a fun party the previous night. We are not alone. Every day millions of people make entries about the events going on in their lives.

Millions of people saying exactly what they want can some times create trouble. The Internet provides a false sense of anonymity or freedom that often we lack offline. In everyday life, we typically censor ourselves. This is not always the case online; sometimes people say things that get them into trouble. Mark Jen, author of http://99zeros.blogspot.com/, made national headlines for his getting fired from Google for the content of his blog. Some of my blogging friends and I have discussed the concepts of Freedom of Speech and how it applies to blogging. In the end, I believe the trick is really to not write anything you would not be happy for your mother or boss or child to read. Google saves a cache of web pages. So even should you delete a web page, others could possibly still read it. While everyone should be responsible about the personal and professional information they place on blogs, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Many non-bloggers think of blogs as only public diaries with entries about personal events but they often transition from online diaries into communication tools for the masses. Individuals in the center of major events often report on their experiences. I have read personal accounts of the towers falling on 9/11, bombs falling near homes in Baghdad, and flood waters rising in New Orleans. These accounts of important events provide a perspective otherwise difficult for traditional news media to provide. Blogs have made it possible for the average person to help shape society’s understanding of worldwide events.

Extremely popular blogs have evolved into online editorials on news events. These are run by professional bloggers who started off as regular bloggers but found they could make money by placing ads on their sites. They draw millions of readers by being an information resource. Popular sources of political commentary are http://wonkette.com/, http://dailykos.com/, and http://instapundit.com/. Blog style postings and polls of supporters have even become political or commercial marketing tools such as the Howard Dean campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States popularized in early 2003. Even VSU uses blog technologies such as the news RSS feed at http://feeds.feedburner.com/ValdostaStateUniversity to inform others about events on campus.

Many blogs are much more specialized. As an information technology and higher education professional, I read a number of k-logs or knowledge logs. Other professionals describe their experiences creating, implementing, or using programs (whether software or educational). Important figures of the IT world, like Robert Scoble at http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/, post regarding where they see the industry headed. We not so important figures of the IT world often hang upon these gleanings as important revelations regarding where the industry is headed. As blogs penetrate every industry, they are becoming more and more valuable resources. They are quietly replacing magazines and journals for professionals to keep up in their industry.

The great theme of the Internet is bringing the world together through easier communication. Friends living at great distances often stay in touch by email. Blogs fit perfectly into this theme. Writers now have simple tools to publish their thoughts, syndication allows readers to keep track of favorite sites, and readers provide back comments. As with other Internet technologies, at first it was just the techies like me which embraced them. Next, the commercial companies embraced the use. This dispersed use of blogs widely and encouraged standardization so now the tools are widely available to anyone. So now is the best time to join the blogosphere. I hope to see you out there either as a reader or a writer.

About the Author

Ezra Freelove works for Valdosta State University in Enterprise Infrastructure Systems as a System Support Specialist. For the past 6 years he has managed various VSU web systems and applications such as the main web site, WebCT, and BlazeNet. On occasion he has even created web applications such as the election system used by Student Life for Homecoming.

In addition to work, he maintains a list of his various blogs at his personal web site located at http://ezrasf.com/. Please email < > with questions regarding this story.

About Focus On

Focus On is a forum in which guest writers examine various topics in their profession and/or field of study. The ideas conveyed in this essay do not necessarily express the views of Valdosta State University. Those interested in contributing an article or essay should e-mail with the subject line Focus On.

Sidebars/pullouts

  1. What’s a blog? A blog (weB LOG) is basically a journal that is available on the web. The activity of updating a blog is “blogging” and someone who keeps a blog is a “blogger.” Blogs are typically updated daily using software that allows people with little or no technical background to update and maintain the blog. The Blogosphere is the current state of all information available on blogs and/or the sub-culture of those who create and use blogs. http://www.matisse.net/files/glossary.html#B
  2. Supporting stats from Pew Internet
    By the end of 2004 blogs had established themselves as a key part of online culture. Two surveys by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in November established new contours for the blogosphere: 8 million American adults say they have created blogs; blog readership jumped 58% in 2004 and now stands at 27% of internet users; 5% of internet users say they use RSS aggregators or XML readers to get the news and other information delivered from blogs and content-rich Web sites as it is posted online; and 12% of internet users have posted comments or other material on blogs. Still, 62% of internet users do not know what a blog is. http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/144/report_display.asp
  3. Blogging 101
    You could start a blog of your own in less time than it took to finish reading this article. Simply use the Blogger.com service at http://blogger.com/ and follow the instruction on the main page. If more control is your style but do not want to go through the trouble of installing and maintaining the blog software, then consider the free LiveJournal at http://www.livejournal.com/ or inexpensive TypePad at http://www.typepad.com/. If you lean towards true geekiness and want to install your own software, then turn to WordPress at http://www.wordpress.org/ and Movable Type at http://www.sixapart.com/movabletype/.
  4. Blogger Profile [Ezra]:
    My blog: http://www.livejournal.com/users/sneezypb/
    Years spent blogging: 5
    Top five favorite blogs
    http://lay-c.com/log/ http://gerards.tumblr.com/
    http://lay-c.com/george/ http://www.toastforbrekkie.com/
    http://fiftymillimeter.com/
    http://mikemcbrideonline.com/blogger.html
    http://www.scienceblog.com/cms