USAJobs.gov 3.0 still struggling, but may be improving
- By Alice Lipowicz
- Oct 13, 2011
Editor's note: This article was modified after its original publication to clarify information.
User complaints were still going strong on the second day following the USAJobs.gov 3.0 launch, despite frantic efforts by Office of Personnel Management staffers to respond to the high volume of reported application errors and to apparent extremely high rates of traffic on the site. FCW readers posted a number of complaints about the site in response to our first report as well.
“We are still working on the error messages that some of you are getting, and we won’t stop working until it’s corrected!” OPM Web Manager Dan Thibodeau posted on the USAJobs Facebook page on Oct. 13. He responded to some users directly, and referred other problems to OPM's development team.
Thibodeau suggested that record high volumes of users have been straining USAJobs.gov 3.0 since it was deployed on OPM’s own servers on Oct. 11.
On Oct. 11, there were 40 million page hits by 2.3 million visitors on USAJobs.gov, a record high, he wrote on Facebook. On Oct. 12, the site recorded 68.3 million page hits by 2.6 million visitors, another record high volume, he added. However, an industry source questioned those numbers, and the figures could not be officially validated by press time.
Nonetheless, dealing with the USAJobs.gov 3.0 deployment apparently has been a very busy time for OPM.
“Hi all, I know it’s been a hectic couple of days with trying out the new site,” Thibodeau wrote in another message on Oct. 13. “I’ve responded to almost all of you that have submitted questions but I’m still working on it. The good news is that we’ve identified most of the errors you have reported and have fixed many of them, and we’re working on the rest of them.”
However, he followed up that message by noting that he would be unavailable for the next several hours. “The bad news is that I will have limited access to this page for most of the afternoon as I head to the airport and head back to D.C.,” Thibodeau wrote.
OPM executives have not responded officially to a request for comment on the apparently botched implementation. Federal Computer Week made the initial request on Oct. 11. An agency spokeswoman apologized for the delay in providing an official response.
Despite OPM’s apparent ongoing attempts to address the problems, dozens of users have continued to post messages on the USAJOBS Facebook page throughout Oct. 12 and Oct. 13 indicating they were struggling to navigate the redesigned federal job search website and expressing frustration about numerous error messages, vanished data and stunted searches.
“I am getting error everywhere at a slow speed!” wrote a user. “Your new search is horrible,” wrote another.
But the situation appeared to be slightly improved from the day before, possibly because Thibodeau has been actively responding to users in several dozen messages.
“We are fixing the error messages,” Thibodeau told a user, who responded with “Thanks!”
A handful of users offered neutral or positive comments, too. “I cannot say that I like the new site but will adjust,” wrote one. Another one said her search results were “a lot better” after following Thibodeau’s suggestions for modifying the user’s search terms.
Slightly better operation also was noted in testing on Oct. 13, in comparison to the day before, but the gains appeared to be temporary.
Authorized tests performed by Avue Technologies Corp., a vendor that also provides job search services to several federal agencies, also showed a slight reduction in the failure rate on Oct. 13 in comparison to the day before, according to a spokesman. Avue officials said they were authorized by OPM to perform usability testing on USAJobs.gov 3.0.
Between 11:19 am and 1:22 p.m. on Oct. 13, there were 388 searches performed on USAJobs.gov with 212 errors returned, which is a 55 percent failure rate, the spokesman said.
But that change was short-lived. For tests performed between 1:24 p.m. and 3:15 p.m., there were 332 searches and 250 errors, which is a 75 percent error rate, the Avue spokesman said.
The day before, the error rate was 71 percent, according to Avue’s tests.
Information technology experts suggest that the magnitude and persistence of user complaints seems to indicate substantial flaws in the deployment.
“Whenever there are this many problems, something is wrong,” said Bryan Hochstein, founder of the QuickHire job search service that previously competed with OPM's USAStaffing, an adjunct to USAJobs. QuickHire was integrated into USAJobs and was sold to Monster.com in 2003. Hochstein left Monster in 2007 and said he is no longer involved in job search applications except on a limited basis. “If it’s at a network level, that should be vetted out over the next few hours/couple days (see blackberry outage yesterday). If it’s code based or more systemic, then OPM will have to make a big time decision and live with it.”
Linda Rix, co-chief executive of Avue, previously had said that the USAJobs.gov 3.0 appears to be lacking in capacity or has software bugs in it. Avue is not involved in USAJobs directly, except for the testing, and some of its clients’ applications link to USAJobs.
OPM officials unveiled the new version of USAJobs.gov two days ago, after working on its development for more than a year.
The popular job search website previously was operated and hosted under a contract with Monster.com, but now is operating and hosted by OPM on its own servers. OPM officials previously have said the insourcing of USAJobs would make the website more secure, with more functionality and greater search capabilities.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.