How we are making a government website friendly
There is a huge cultural thing in Russia called hot water shutdown. Here is the deal: for several days, staggered in blocks between May and September, officials shut off hot water to various neighborhoods to clean and repair city’s centrally planned central heating system.
To put it shortly, if you live in Russia, in 90% cases (unless you’re living in a newly built building) you won’t have hot water for 7–14 days every summer. Ouch.
Technology issues aside it is a big cultural aspect of living in Russia. Every person knows about it, there is a huge market of water heaters popping up around April, some people plan their vacations around those dates and of course, there are countless jokes and everyday stories on this topic.
Every year somewhere around late April the company that supplies heat and hot water in Moscow publishes an official schedule of hot water shutdown. It has a pretty simple and straightforward interface and looks something like this:
You enter your home address and get a date for when you won’t have hot water this summer. It works, yes. But there were two problems with this:
- It’s ugly
- More importantly — there was a gazillion of websites providing that data and every year people felt frustrated trying to find the right one to find out those precious dates.
What we did
At mos.ru, the official website of the Government of Moscow we decided we have to change this. We wanted to:
- Make the hot water shutdown calendar available on an official city website.
- Make it good-looking and easily understandable
- Let people find it easily
- Add some human touch to it
So on April 28th, we launched hot water shutdown page on mos.ru:
The page included several key aspects:
- As you can notice it’s not just a simple address input field but some copy as well. We’ve made a research on the topic and tried to find answers to most popular questions on the issue that bothers people the most. Why do we have this annual shutdown, when would that stop, how do I pay for hot water during that period, etc, etc. The answers were rewritten in a simple human language, not the one that government officials usually use.
- Searchable database to quickly find when your house wouldn’t have hot water. Additionally, we’ve decided to visualize the results in a simple calendar view since almost everyone was trying to match the dates they found against the calendar.
3. And last but not least we’ve added a simple human touch to a share button. Once you found your schedule we’d ask you: Tell your friends when your hot water shuts down, maybe they’d invite you to their place.
When you click that share button the image would generate:
The thing is that specific request is kind of a key cultural aspect of the whole hot water shutdown thing. People actually go to their parents, friends, and relatives to take a proper shower once or twice during that period. And it’s not something they are ashamed of, they joke about it and everyone gets it.
And if you are living a building where hot water doesn’t have to be shut down you’d share this image instead:
Now that I translate this caption to English it sound kind of creepy 😬
The page lived for about four months and during that time we’ve got:
- 1,370,000 people who visited the page (~11% of the city population)
- 73% visits came from search engines
- about 450,000 people landing on this page visited mos.ru for the first time ever
- 2,820 people shared their shutdown dates with friends on social media