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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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July 28, 2008 8:28 AM

New state campaign money site

Posted by David Postman

The state Public Disclosure Commission has gone live with a new searchable database of campaign fundraising and spending. It makes huge improvements on the previous site, which was packed with good information but not always intuitive to use.

Eric Earling at Sound Politics says it's "crack for political junkies." True enough. But I'd say the site will be considered a real success if even those who don't consider themselves junkies can navigate it and learn something about who is giving and who is getting the big bucks this year.

If you've never used the PDC site before I urge you to go try it. And let me know what interesting things you find.

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Posted by Aaron

10:53 AM, Jul 28, 2008

I question the wisdom of the PDC for deploying a major change in format and technology just at the height of campaign season, days before primary ballots drop.

Here are some of the problems I've encountered with the new system:

On starting the search process, the message "Your browser Firefox Version 2 does not meet the minimum requirements to use the features of this site. Please upgrade to Firefox version 3 or above." is displayed.

(Firefox Version 2 is a fully capable browser. I seriously doubt that the PDC site is doing anything that Firefox 2 cannot handle properly).

I've also had difficulty using the search dialog, and frequently get no-results for queries I know are valid.

Finally, when searching for my own contributions to candidates, the results are incomplete.

I admit the new interface looks good and is a great idea. But it has bugs, and I have no confidence in the results it returns. I hope the PDC will consider making the old-interface accessible until bugs in the current system are fixed.

Posted by Michael Smith

11:40 AM, Jul 28, 2008

Aaron,

Please know that you can still access the old system if you find the new one unsatisfactory. It's found under Historical Data on the PDC's home page.

Just so you're aware we have done extensive testing and Firefox version 2 does have some display issues as well as incompatibilities with RSS. We will update this warning to users so it's clearer what browsers work best with the system. We have extensively tested the system with Firefox 3, Internet Explorer 7 and Safari both Mac and Windows version 3 and all work perfectly.

Also, when performing Advanced Searches it is imperative that you clear whatever criteria you previously searched for when performing a new search otherwise you may not get the results you expect. This is by design and is intended to provide users a means of getting right back to what they just searched for. If you are not finding something you know is in our database, I'd like to know what that is since we continually do quality control of our software and data.

I'm sorry you had difficulty using it the first time out. Hopefully you'll find it more useful as you get used to it.

This newly designed system is the greatest work my division has ever done and this system will be an example for the rest of the County. I assure you my wisdom in getting this project completed in the past six months for this round of elections was no mistake and disclosure is now better for all citizens both novice and advanced, PC and Mac users alike.

Thank you for your feedback.

Michael Smith, CTO
Public Disclosure Commission

Posted by Michael Smith

11:43 AM, Jul 28, 2008

Sorry,

It should read Country. 2nd to last paragraph.

Posted by Aaron

3:49 PM, Jul 28, 2008

For the benefit of the blog readers, here's an update on this morning's exchange:

I emailed details of my problems with the new reporting system to Michael Smith this morning, and the issues were fixed by this afternoon!

I'm thrilled to see the PDC is taking user-comments seriously, and responding rapidly. Maybe this system is a big improvement after all? Its certainly moving in the right direction.

-A

Posted by Michael Smith

4:45 PM, Jul 28, 2008

Aaron,

Thank you for identifying the issues with the Advanced Search features of the new query system.

Your help is greatly appreciated and I'm glad we were able to resolve a couple of the issues you've identified. It also helps support my claim that testing really doesn't begin until the software is in the users hands. I say this from experience as we did have several tests/test users, none of which identified what you have in such a short time.

We do pride ourselves on listening to the public and responding to your requests. I welcome all critical feedback and suggestions for improvement. We do want to develop software that is usable for everyone and will keep Washington State best in the nation.

Thanks again for your help. I agree that this system will only get better from here, especially with the assistance of users like you.

Michael Smith, CTO
Public Disclosure Commission
360-586-8929

Posted by John

9:32 PM, Jul 28, 2008

Michael Smith,
After using your new web site I have one question for you, did you use MS software or did Microsoft help you?

Posted by Michael Smith

10:37 PM, Jul 28, 2008

Hi John,

The new Search the Database feature has been developed using Microsoft .NET technology. We have licensed components from ComponentArt (grid, tabs, dropdowns) which really add that excellent and consistent cross browser visual rendering.

I'm proud to say this and every other software innovation at the PDC has been developed in house by a very dedicated team of IT professionals that I have the privilege to lead. No consultants, no contracts with MS or anyone else. Just us State employees.

I'm fortunate to have recruited and retained the very best IT professionals working for the State of WA. I owe it to them for the work they do to make my vision and the Commissions goals a reality.

I thought I had seen it all when we launched the Gubernatorial Money Map in April. But this new query system is by far, IMHO, the very best work the PDC has produced to date.

Itís also important to know that we were able to do this project for a little more than 1100 hours total staff time and less than $50,000 in salaries and benefits cost.

Posted by John

8:33 AM, Jul 29, 2008

Michael,


As someone who has never been to your site before you need a definition table.

In-kind? Ind for? Ind against ?

I would not have the time to see 3000 donors you need to speed the program up.

Posted by Michael Smith

10:19 AM, Jul 29, 2008

Hi John,

Thank you for your feedback. I appreciate your comments.

Just so you're aware, in the upper right hand corner of the query system pages there are several buttons. The button with an icon that looks like a Book 2nd from the right is the Glossary of terms that defines the terms found in the website/query system. Right next to that button is another button that is a blue circle with a question mark in it. That is a comprehensive help file that will also provide web site users with more information about what they are looking at.

As far as speeding up the system. I'm not sure there is technology yet to support that. As it is now, the Statewide candidates main page load in about 1.5 seconds. If you then click on a candidates name you will get the candidateís details page. By selecting Rossi who has over 43,000 detailed contributions, the page loads in just a bit more than 10 seconds. This is by far a HUGE improvement over the old system where we limited detailed results to 5,000 records because of the amount of time to download so much information. The speeds Iím quoting are broadband speeds of course. Dial-up users would expect much longer wait times, just as they do for any other web site.

I agree most citizens do not have time to look at all 43,000+ detailed contributors, that is why we start them off at the top level with the total raised and spent. We provide the contributions and expenditures detail so those citizens who do have time to look can.

I assure you, we realize that website users expect to find what they are looking for in 30 seconds or less. We are trying to meet that expectation by providing users with instant success with only a few mouse clicks using this new system.

Thanks again for your feedback.

Michael Smith, CTO
Public Disclosure Commission

Posted by Michael Smith

10:31 AM, Jul 29, 2008

John,

Sorry, I need to correct my last post.

Actually Rossi has over 45,000 individual receipts and it took a bit more than 10 seconds, it's really about 25 seconds for his detailed contributions page to load.

Michael

Posted by Teetotaler

1:26 PM, Jul 29, 2008

It bothers me to see a legislator with a fairly significant drunk driving arrest in his past taking money from the Beer and Wine Wholesalers PAC.

Posted by PDC unser

7:39 PM, Jul 30, 2008

the interface is terrible.


the buttons that look they are designed for videos don't work smoothly.

you need to make it easier to scroll down a long list, not force users to keep clicking, clicking, clicking

keep trying.

Recent entries

Jul 30, 08 - 10:41 AM
Rossi's subtle editing

Jul 30, 08 - 08:53 AM
Foward Washington exec responds

Jul 29, 08 - 01:46 PM
Rossi's first TV ad avoids specifics

Jul 29, 08 - 12:35 PM
What Stevens indictment means to his re-election

Jul 29, 08 - 07:34 AM
Burner's big bank account

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