Anyone who has been following the yearlong series of blunders that has been the Chinese Railway Ministry’s online ticket sales platform 12306.cn has probably thought to themselves at one point or another: why don’t they just get Alibaba to do this?
Certainly that company or one of China’s other e-commerce giants has the technology and experience to create a more stable platform than the Railway Ministry apparently can. And with the bugs and blunders starting to pile up, it has got to be in the Ministry’s best interest to have a working website, because people are starting to wonder if people who can’t operate a web store should really be the same people in charge of high speed trains. In fact, the Railway Ministry has even reportedly considered partnering with Alibaba or Baidu to sell train tickets on more their more stable platforms. But no move has been made, and recently a Ministry rep confirmed that there would be no cooperation with e-commerce sites:
Our 12306.cn is a non-profit operation, we will not cooperate with commercial enterprises, and anyway we are confident in our own technology.
Where that confidence comes from is a mystery, and the Ministry’s explanation of its refusal to cooperate doesn’t make a lot of sense. Although Alibaba is indeed a for-profit enterprises, it and other e-commerce companies have in the past teamed up with government organizations to create non-profit ecommerce platforms like Taobao Sifa, the online auction platform Taobao created for the Zhejiang People’s Court (which, needless to say, is a non-profit government entity). Why couldn’t the Railway Ministry work out something similar? I have no idea.
There are, however, skeptics who claim that the Ministry won’t play with others because it needs to keep control of its database so that employees can manipulate the system to pick tickets on hold for friends, family, and connections. Needless to say, the Railway Ministry has denied this. But with another holiday ticket rush (National Day is October 1st) being buried in problems, it’s not hard to understand why people might come to the conclusion that there’s some foul play going on.
In the meantime, IT insiders in China have been helping net users buy tickets even as they mock the Railway Ministry site. But if you think even they can make buying train tickets easy, think again: one of the most popular solutions requires modifying an obscure Windows system file to include either of the strings:
- 188.8.131.52 dynamic.12306.cn
Is that the sort of thing users were just supposed to figure out on their own?
Although the National Day ticket rush is already a clusterfuck, the Ministry still has a few months to prepare for next year’s Spring Festival bonanza. With any luck, before that day comes, someone will be able to talk the Railway Ministry into giving Jack Ma a call.
I know you want to do this on your own, guys, but you tried it, and it’s just not working. How about you let someone who knows e-commcerce handle the e-commerce end, and you guys focus on making sure this never happens again, mmmkay?