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Friday, March 02, 2007

the city goes electronic

I was pleased when I read I'd be able to pay my city water bill online and when my most recent bill arrived, it included an account number so that I could log on and set up my account. I'm almost entirely electronic these days and, while I retain a bit of suspicion regarding putting personal info etc. on the web, it seems like if you balance that with the Santa Fe postal system, you're probably better off doing the former. Not to mention it's easier. In theory.
It took the city a long time to get this up (too long really) and I was curious to check it out because my experience with the city as a customer, particularly with the water company, has been ridiculous and includes a two-year period in which I had to go to the water company every month to complain about problems with my billing and got so bad that I took to carrying around a huge file of my correspondence. I also began to really understand why some people start to sound crazy after years of fighting bureacracy because bureacracy is usually so mindless that it will drive you crazy, particularly if you try to spell the word beauracracy too often. Why doesn't it ever look right?
Anyway, back to the city's new site: I created a user name, filled out the info, hit send, got an error message and a request to create a new user name. This happened three times and I gave up after realizing that the problem was their system, not my choice of user names (I did a test by picking a very unusual name that I refuse to believe anyone else could already have). When I checked my email, I had three greetings from the system that, after telling me to find new user names, had gone ahead and created three accounts for me, all with the same account number (sent to me in the mail) using the three different user names it had ostensibly rejected. This did not, as you can imagine, inspire me to give the system my banking information. So I went ahead and wrote a check and stuck it in the mail.
I can't help but think six months down the road this system will be in the news, having proven to be full of glitches that are no one's fault but that have resulted in who the heck knows what kind of bureacratic nonsense. I, however, am not going to participate in the immediate future. The other moronic thing about it is that the main pay option given is for credit card payment. Who pays their water bill regularly on a credit card? There is an option to pay using your bank info, but it's in a different spot that I had to look for. Has anyone at the city ever heard of user testing for web sites? Cause this one seems like it could use it. I have no idea why this surprises me, it really shouldn't and I guess it doesn't, but it was kind of disappointing. And, perhaps, story worthy.