Saturday, September 19, 2009

Web sites that suck (in France)

France as a country has long been very good at building very bad Web sites, profiting from its two decades of lag behind the rest of the developed world to produce sites that look like they were designed by seventh-graders on their first day of computer class in junior high. A new record for terrible French Web sites was set just a few days ago, when erstwhile failed presidential candidate Ségolène Royal had a site created for an association, Désirs d'Avenir (“future desires”—sounds like the name of a DVD that you'd find in the backroom of the video store), that supports her political activities.

By a truly amazing coincidence, this new Frankensite was created by her current boyfriend, André Hadjez. Her honey spent two months giving life to the monster, and charged her association more than $57,000 for his handiwork. Somehow, out of that bare-bones 57-kilobuck budget, he managed to find the funds necessary to use a background image taken from the set of desktop wallpapers that ships with Microsoft Vista, a stroke of artistic genius that was instantly identified by observers. Hours after the original site debuted, it was replaced by another site that sported an eye-straining day-glo magenta background. The last time I tried to look at the site from school, it was inaccessible. A few hours ago, when I tried to see it from home, I was unable to view it because—like every French Web site designed since the extinction of the dinosaurs—it consists entirely of a Flash animation, and I don't run Flash animations on untrusted sites for security reasons.

Ms. Royal supposedly said that “This idea is Andre's. He's a very talented man in multimedia and very much in love.” I'm not sure how being in love helps one to build Web sites. In fact, looking at this site, I'm more inclined to conclude that being in love somehow puts talent (if any) into suspended animation.

Anyway, this mess attracted strident hoots of ridicule from every corner of Francophone society (the rest of the world was mostly indifferent). The site is terrible even by the extremely undemanding standards of French web-weaving. I could easily do ten times better for ten times less, and so could the vast majority of webmasters working in this century. If this is an example of what Ségolène's beau produces for $57,000, I shudder to think what he might charge for a site that were actually presentable and modern.

If you search around on the Web, you can find copies of the two initial home pages of the site pretty easily (which has changed several times as the association struggles to carry out damage control). It's impossible to say anything complimentary about them.

There are also many lampoons of the site popping up, although I don't know if they'll be around for long once the 15 minutes of fame that this site has bought for its owner have expired. Some people have even speculated that the site might have been deliberately designed bad, in order to generate buzz, because it's hard to believe that anyone could create anything so inept without wanting to.

This does help demonstrate that, if you find burning $100 bills in a hibachi to be too solid a financial investment, you can always waste money even more efficiently by hiring a French firm to build your Web site.

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