Govt auction site a dog's breakfast

Have you had a look at the Ministry of Economic Development's spectrum auction site? Maybe it's just me, but it's a dog's breakfast. (This, by the way, is a bad thing.)

Have you had a look at the Ministry of Economic Development's spectrum auction site? Maybe it's just me, but it's a dog's breakfast. (This, by the way, is a bad thing.)

The site itself is pretty straightforward (auction.med.govt.nz) - nothing flashy, just simple text and a bunch of links. Just what you'd expect from a short-lived highly functional site.

At the top of the page is the current overall dollar amount, kind of like a lottery or telethon. At the bottom of the page is a link to Adobe Acrobat so you can look at things.

But then it gets all governmental - clicking on "current schedules" gets me a blank page, and nowhere can I simply click on a page and have a look at the current bidding.

I have no idea how the bidders themselves are coping - they must have to employ someone full-time just to enter and track their bids.

I eventually found a page that now contains a link to an Excel spreadsheet that has the latest results and has been "generated to improve interpretation of results".

I don't have Excel on my machine and so there followed a convoluted series of steps whereby I saved the file, emailed it as an attachment to myself and used Lotus Notes to "view" the attachment rather than launching it (this would've sent the app scurrying off to look for Excel, which I don't have, and would then send it into convulsions) and see what's going on using the file viewer.

Even given the peculiarities of my set-up, not to mention my solution, this is a very lengthy process. I for one can't be bothered doing that twice a day.

Now I've got the latest update, I have to print it off (sideways, on A3) to see the whole thing at a glance and discover that I also need a list of who the bidders are. Each bidder is referred to by number, so I have to go back to the site, dig out the list of registered voters and find out what each one is up to.

By now I'm caring less and less about the 3G spectrum because it's becoming clear to me that mastering technology and harnessing it for the good of all humanity is beyond us. So I printed it off.

That was something of a mistake, if I say so myself. That puppy's still going, spewing mostly blank A3 pages. I've pushed the printer into a small room which it's currently attempting to fill with the latest update on the auction.

The spreadsheet page is also arranged with the piddly little 2G stuff at the top, so much scrolling is required before you even find the big dollars, buried at the bottom of the page.

Now you have to zip up and down trying to work out which column relates to price, bidder, time and even which chunk of spectrum they're bidding for. So far as I can tell, Vodafone (bidder number 121) has bid $178,002 for spectrum lot MR34, although whether that's its latest bid, the highest bid or what I just can't fathom.

I'm not the only one to find it frustrating. I keep getting calls from various colleagues who first of all discuss rugby (like you do, full credit, game of two halves, mate) then manage to swing the conversation round to the auction.

"I haven't been following it closely," they say, "what's it standing at?" My reply, now that I've cottoned on to what's going on, is an unprintable "look it up yourself".

Why is it all so difficult? What's wrong with a simple page of graphs showing each lot being auctioned individually? Why not use the bidders' names since they're all freely available anyway?

All joking aside, there is no excuse for making a publicly-available document so obtuse.

E-government has a long way to go before it's accepted in the mainstream environment and that's a real shame.

Anybody have an aspirin?

Send email to Paul Brislen.

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