The Olympics are a celebration of human agility, strength and achievement stemming back to ancient Greece. The Olympics website appears to be a celebration of late-'90s Web design, complete with a clunky schedule, scattered widgets and numerous navigation systems competing for viewer attention. Designed and maintained by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Olympic.org is not only dated and difficult to use, it also failed to capture the excitement of the games and the fervor of competition.
When I first visited Olympic.org, I immediately checked that I had correctly entered the URL. The site looks more like the work of a high school student than that of a team of professionals funded by the IOC. The information structure is neither intuitive nor consistent; multiple page elements are coupled with a main navigation style reminiscent of the late '90s. Searching for a national medal count could have qualified as its own event in Sochi.
The site has an overall atmosphere of distraction with numerous elements and widgets competing for visitor attention from the home screen. Videos, schedules and photos from Sochi and previous Olympics clutter the screen, while drop-down menus flash in and out of view with each movement of the mouse.
Besides tracking scores and checking to see the leading nations, we can presume a major reason people would visit Olympic.org would be to check the schedule. Given the significant time difference between the U.S. and Sochi, following events in real-time require an up-to-date schedule detailing when each competition took place (Sorry, NBC-we can't all hold out until prime time).
Olympic.org visitors searching for a schedule will find an outdated, generic widget dropped haphazardly on the page. The schedule feels like it had been built in Microsoft Excel, except for the fact that Excel would have been a better choice design wise. A grid with options for all 13 days visible, the schedule features empty columns at the left with a seemingly random synopsis of awards. Abstract symbols representing different sports along the top of the schedule leads visitors to results for only a given day, leaving the viewer even more than when they began.
Since the last winter games in Vancouver and even since the 2012 games in London, Web traffic has shifted to mobile and cemented the need for a site that is both useful and visually enticing when accessed on a smartphone or tablet. While a step above the desktop site, m.olympic.org exemplifies how the IOC missed the opportunity to truly engage a younger and more technically adept audience during the Sochi games.
Aesthetics and technology aside, Olympic.org's greatest failure may be its inability to capture the experience of the Olympics. A global competition of each nation's greatest athletes, complete with high-speed races and death-defying feats, the site feels distant and removed from the games.
So what went wrong with Olympic.org? Online visitors are down since the summer 2012 games. According to Alexa, Olympic.org was a top 1,000 US website during the London 2012 games. Today, it has dropped its position to 5,674 in the US and 24,000 globally. Alexa also indicated that over 57 percent of the visitors to the site leave immediately. That may be an acceptable bounce rate in the off-season, but when the games are underway and as the world is watching, that is a sign that your website is not worth using.
Online visitors have begun to expect more from traditional websites, especially those from global brands. Browser technology is exploding with new abilities that enable us to build amazing Web experiences that can immerse visitors in a digital world filled with the icy breath of down hill skiers, the scale of the stacked mountain ranges, and the global energy that is the Olympics. Covering the Olympics online should be so much more than a medal count with antidotal stories. The Olympics website should be the next best thing to actually being there. Instead, Olympic.org presents a site is far better suited for a library than the most relevant worldwide sporting mecca.
The days of being so big or relevant that you can get away with a poor online experience are over. The world is moving faster to digital consumption of information than ever before, and if your site fails to deliver, it provides an opening for others to take you out or even worse. Your site and more importantly your organization can fade into online oblivion.
A website of this magnitude should be winning medals and awards, challenging other websites in the spirit of competition. It is ironic that the website for the top, most elite athletes on the planet is represented by a site that fails to set any records or even qualify.
James Ramsey is the CEO of Fiddlefly, a full service Web and creative agency based in Columbia, MD.
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