Cash Gordon: This is Not a Game

There was much hilarity today as the Conservative’s new Cash Gordon website was deluged by tweets; these tweets, by exploiting some shoddy coding on the site, redirected all visitors to unsavoury sites. Cash Gordon was pulled, and only returned several hours later after some hasty fixes.

Screen shot 2010-03-22 at 23.40.01

I am not here to make fun of the poor security on the site – that’s already been accomplished in a fine manner.

No, I am here to cast scorn on the site itself (supposedly costing $15,000), and the engine it’s running on:

  1. On first glance, it looks like it’s been designed by a kid who’s been let loose on Dreamweaver, with its strange layout and formatting; the white text on light blue background tells us that amateur hour is well and truly in.
  2. But wait, what’s this in the hard-to-read white 80s digital numerals? A big ticker showing ‘Total Action Points’? Maybe something clever is going on here! And there’s stuff about ‘members’ and ‘Total points scored’ at the top – could this be a… game?
  3. Maybe, but there’s nothing that immediately indicates how you play or join up. There are ways of getting points by reading ‘Who is Charlie Whelan?’ and ‘Connecting to Facebook’, and if you spot the oddly-situated bizarro slider on the left-hand side of the main box (I suppose it provides a pleasing symmetry to normal slider on the opposite side), you can view other ways of getting points.
  4. Of course, where there’s points, there’s a leaderboard (below)! It shows the top five ‘players’ – and that’s it. I briefly consider creating a fake Facebook user with an offensive name and photo, and racking up enough points to reach first place, but decide that would be a tedious waste of time, because…
  5. …There’s already a ‘Latest Tweets’ panel displaying all #cashgordon mentions, which is unsurprisingly full of people insulting the website and the Tories.
  6. To round out the page, there’s also a link to read a Featured Article from The Times. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in Chrome; however, if it did work, it’d load the target article in an iframe, which is just atrocious.
  7. After looking at everything else on the page, I reluctantly drag my eyes over to the unappetising simulated Word doc in the centre, with its passionless design, excessive leading, and utterly, utterly boring copy. I can get no further than the third paragraph before trying to decide how much worse ‘highly damaging’ is than just plain-old ‘damaging’, and then giving up.

But what really bothers me about this site are the Action Points, which appear to be a completely arbitrary way of measuring and encouraging engagement with the site. Why do I get more points by pretending to read an article than by pretending to tweet Charlie Whelan? Why do I care that 135,200 action points have been earned in total? Is that supposed to be a big number or not? Is something going to happen when we reach 200,000 points? What do I get if I reach the top of the leaderboard? Wouldn’t it be better to show exactly how many articles have been read, tweets sent out, emails signed up, etc, instead of using these points? Or would that be too painful, because it’d reveal exactly how few people had engaged with the site?

I can just imagine the conversation at HQ:

Businessperson 1: You know what’s cool?

Businessperson 2: LinkedIn?

BP1: No, games! Didn’t you know they’re the new way to convert visitors into mindless drones who’ll do your bidding and spread your message to their ‘social graph’ on Facebook?

BP2: Why would they do that?

BP1: Because we give them points! People will do anything for points, and levelling up; trust me, my fiancee’s sister’s husband’s son’s girlfriend plays World of Mafia Wars all day, and she’d do anything for points and for ‘levels’.

BP2: What a brilliant way of connecting with today’s youth – why, this could be the next Farm Society! Come here, lackey – put a game into our website!

Developer: Well, it’s not quite that easy-

BP1: What do you mean, not that easy? Why don’t you try Rails, I hear that’s supposed to be fast – and good job too, because we need it by tonight!

Actually, I can’t blame too much – they’re no worse than a lot of other sites out there (but they’re definitely not any better).

No, I find it tragic that Conservative HQ dropped $15k on this ugly, easily-hacked piece of ‘social marketing’ nonsense; you won’t find your Obama-magic here, I’m afraid. And whatever happened to supporting British business, eh?


4 Replies to “Cash Gordon: This is Not a Game”

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