Drag a Wild Horse

The Bureau of Land Management has put online auctioning to work to fulfill one of its missions. BLM, by law, must protect the thousands of wild horses roaming federal land in the West. To control the population and balance the ratio of range resources to herd size, BLM has auctioned off horses since 1973 under the Adopt-a-Horse Program.

What was once a typical old-style auction has been turned into a cyberventure. Today, potential adopters can log on to a BLM Web site, view several color pictures of the adoptees BLM has to offer and electronically apply for permission to adopt. Those who prove they have the facilities and background to take on a former herd animal can bid for their favorite horse during a real-time online auction, which takes place every three to four months.

Like most e-commerce auction sites, BLM needed a robust server and a sophisticated auction engine to determine down to the microsecond which bid came in first and to acknowledge a higher bid immediately. Initially, the server was so slow that during the last, most frantic hours of the two-week-long auction, people had difficulty submitting bids.

A new contractor, New Directions Technologies Inc., Ridgecrest, Calif., has added speed and capacity to the site, as well as more user-friendly features. "Now, everything is instantaneous," said wild horse and burro program specialist Karen Malloy, who runs the Internet program.

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