Adobe’s Open Government: Money Grab or Utter Incompetence?

It’s rare that I’ll make strong accusations like in the title of this post without adding an extensive explanation for it, but as short on time as I may be, I can’t help but express some of my outrage over Adobe’s new “Open Government” advocacy website1.

This “Open Government” website is made all in Flash and is utterly inaccessible from a Web Accessibility perspective. In fact, I couldn’t even imagine a more diametrically opposed website implementation to that very same website’s stated purpose.

Wait, that’s a lie. It could have been built using both Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Flash in some weird kind of “Schrödinger’s Website” abomination. Anyway, not the point.

Chris Foresman, writing for Ars Technica, had this to observe:

After just a cursory browsing, here are some of the usability and data accessibility issues we observed. You can’t select, copy, or paste any text. Your browser’s font override features won’t work, so you can’t adjust the font or its size to be more readable. Your browser’s built-in in-page search won’t work, and you can’t use the keyboard to scroll through the text. You can’t parse or scrape the data in any way; the design is fixed-width, so it’s not going to work well on different screen sizes; and browser plugins, like Greasemonkey, can’t adjust anything. Basically when it comes to text at all, if you don’t like the style or are visually impaired, you’re screwed.

What’s so bizarre about this entire thing is that Flash is technically capable of many of these things. Done the right way, it is absolutely possible to make a Flash website that is a lot more user-friendly and accessible. You can even ensure that search engines can index the content if you do it right. Adobe, however, seems unaware of how their own flagship web product works.

This led me to wonder: is Adobe simply trying to con tech-unsavvy Government decision makers into signing a number of contracts tying future Government websites and/or data to Adobe’s proprietary data formats and products, ensuring a healthy new stream of revenue for the next couple of years, or are they actually so incompetent that they couldn’t make their own advocacy website adhere to the very principles it purportedly advocates?

Perhaps even worse is that this website really doesn’t call for the use of Flash at all, except perhaps for all those superfluous little animations it’s littered with. The interface, content and navigation is about as straightforward as it gets.

I also managed to break the first page’s introduction paragraph simply by attempting to select some of the text; I’ve posted screenshots of the breakage on my Flickr.

All said and done, if the new Obama administration truly wants to create a more Open Goverment, they’d do well to stay away from Adobe’s products and data formats; as Clay Johnson of Sunlight Labs wrote: if the data format has an ® by its name, it probably isn’t great for transparency or open data.

  1. Hyperlink deliberately limited to the meaningless word “website”. Adobe does not deserve any link-cred for this piece of inaccessible garbage.

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