Fifteen years ago, when all it was used for was chat rooms and sending the odd email, who’d have thought it would be able to tell you the volume and types of crime that had occurred in your local area over the past month?

The Police.uk site launched this week with much fanfare. Unsurprisingly, it received a massive amount of visitors. However, most who went to the site went away disappointed. The sheer volume of traffic meant that when users entered their post code, the website stalled, either doing nothing, or informing users that their postcode hadn’t been recognised. Some of those that did manage to get the site working reported that the data returned was inaccurate or misleading.

What surprised me most is how badly the launch was handled, and how easily the performance issues might have been avoided. I’m sure the results could have been presented more accurately or, at the very least, better explained to avoid misinterpretation. However, the biggest shock was that the people responsible for managing the website were unable to anticipate the volume of traffic. The PR campaign clearly did a great job in achieving coverage.  But at the very least, those responsible for maintaining the site should have ensured that the servers were able to cope with the high volume of visitors.  With low-cost virtualised servers easily available to augment existing server capacity, there should be no excuse for a popular site not being able to handle all the visitors it receives.

Although the site is now functioning as expected, it could be construed as yet another blow to the reputation of what should be seen as an efficient and organised public service. Perhaps a bit of stress testing before the launch of the next big public sector website wouldn’t go amiss?

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