Arkansas, Seattle and Stearns County, Minn., were named first-place winners of the 2011 Best of the Web awards program, in an announcement Thursday, Sept. 1.

Best of the Web spotlights the top 10 state, county and city Web portals throughout the United States each year that demonstrate the highest levels of innovation, functionality and efficiency. The portals are judged by a panel of experts on a wide range of categories, including site accessibility, innovation, cost-savings, ease of use and exceptional service to the public. A full list of winners is located at the bottom of the page.

Best of the Web is a joint project between Government Technology and the Center for Digital Government.

Arkansas

Arkansas took top honors in the state category for improvements made to Arkansas.gov. Claire Bailey, the state’s chief technology officer (CTO) and director of the Arkansas Department of Information Systems, said the state strived to improve service delivery through various apps on Arkansas’ Web portal. Enhancements included an improved search function, a photo gallery and the ability to text the state for assistance.

Optimizing Arkansas’ mobile Web presence was a key driver as well.

“We worked to enhance the mobile portal display so we’d get more ‘full’ content pages,” Bailey explained. The portal also was modified to have a more unified look and feel, consistent with various agency boards and commissions.

Arkansas.gov also added the eGov Widget. This section of the state’s website hosts a variety of service widgets that Web developers can use for free and embed information directly from the city into other websites and social media. The widgets can also be customized for a user’s particular location.

Judges were particularly enamored by this feature on Arkansas.gov, calling the widget a “great example of collaboration and really groundbreaking” in terms of filtering local information and services.

The state also earned points from the judges for its live chat functionality and text4Help, a new text messaging customer service tool.

Seattle

Seattle headed up the list of winners among city portals. Bill Schrier, Seattle’s CTO, said the city worked hard during the past year to improve the portal’s look and feel, spotlighting the work his staff and Julie McCoy, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s chief of staff, did to clean up the site’s look and improve the visual experience.

The judges agreed, remarking that the site’s layout is consistent and calling each page “visually appealing.”

Seattle’s emphasis on blogging also caught the eye of evaluators.

“CityLink blogs not only enable transparency, but this content is also pushed to RSS feeds and widgets so content is fresh,” one judge said, adding that there are numerous blogs that allow for public comment.

“Many sites have blogs, but they don’t allow public comments,” added a judge. “This defeats the purpose of a blog. Seattle does it right.”

Schrier noted that Seattle wanted to connect better with both residents and visitors by being more interactive. He said My.Seattle.Gov was developed to let people customize the Web portal to their liking, and the “My Neighborhood Map” function allows everyone interested in visiting the Emerald City to find services, events and information. “It is a mashup that includes a lot of information about the city in an easy-to-find and clickable format,” Schrier said.

He added that Data.seattle.gov, which provides data sets to the public, is also connected to the My Neighborhood Map, which gives residents information on police and fire 911 calls, crimes and other public safety information by moving a cursor over an icon on the map.

The information provided by the Seattle.gov My Neighborhood Map functionality also includes redacted police reports that don’t include the names of the complainants, victims or their contact information.

“It appears the site is making a strong effort to connect with visitors by combining GIS [and] social media tools operated by [the] site with user feedback and additions,” said one judge. “Each area is well done and thought out. The blog integration and open data work is excellent. It’s not just for show — there is real public value there.”

Stearns County, Minn.

Stearns County, Minn., was the gold standard in the county portal category.

George McClure, the county’s information services director, said a different approach was taken in the portal design. He said that instead of gravitating toward navigation that fit in with government terminology, the county wanted more of a subject-based, residential approach.

“We tried to focus on the topic the person had in mind and group it as topics,” McClure explained, referring to the website’s navigation bar. “We used the analogy of how you find items in the aisle of your favorite grocery store and grouped all the like items together. I think we took a unique and fresh approach and I think that’s one of the strengths of the site.”

Judges agreed. In addition to commenting on the site’s overall design and use of white space, they remarked that the navigation is easy to use and consistent.

Other features highlighted by the judges included the portal’s interactive mapping and online payment features and social media integration. Judges also thought highly of the automatic redirect to the mobile version of the site, calling it the “best we have seen so far.”

McClure said the county was particularly proud of its emphasis on involving the community on the website. Judges noticed that as well, giving praise for having a blog for kids along with an interactive calendar and map features.

“We have a whole community section on the site with community blogs and photo contests,” McClure said. “We really tried to encourage and build and promote civic engagement and increased participation with local government.”

Editor's Note (Sept. 2): The judges' panel for the Best of the Web includes officials from last year's winners (who participate as judges only and do not compete), as well as Center for Digital Government senior fellows and senior executives.

2011 Best of the Web Awards

State Portal Category:

Finalists:

   City Portal Category:

Finalists:

County Portal Category:

Finalists:

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.