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California, Boston and Chesterfield County, Va. took top honors from the Center for Digital Government's Best of the Web awards program, in an announcement Wednesday, Sept. 1.

Best of the Web highlights the top 10 state, county and city portals in the nation that show the highest levels of innovation, functionality and efficiency.

The top state honor went to California's government portal, CA.gov. Among the site's numerous new features was mobile.ca.gov, specifically designed for mobile devices.

"You can go on and just look at the applications that have a mobile configuration. Other states have it where you go on, look at a site, and you might or might not be able to look at [the applications] from a mobile device," said California CIO Teri Takai.

"We believe that access to the Internet through mobile devices is going to be one of the fastest growing ways that people are going to access information," Takai continued, "and we want to be ready for that."

She credited the site's win to the employees who redesigned the site. "We just turned everybody loose and provided the tools for them to be successful," she said.

One Best of the Web judge made a similar observation about the value of having so many cooks in the kitchen. "It turns California's biggest challenge [extreme decentralization] into an asset," the judge wrote.

CA.gov features numerous new applications, including one that pairs citizens seeking volunteer opportunities with appropriate organizations. Another application directs military veterans returning to civilian life toward potential job opportunities. Another feature gives citizens a close look at the reconstruction of the Oakland Bay Bridge. The California Office of the State Chief Information Officer put together much of the technology used for the various applications and taught individual agencies how to make their own applications with it.

"Very innovative and excellent use of Web 2.0 technologies," another judge wrote. "Content is very well organized resulting in a great user experience. The Smart Search allows you to enter a California ZIP code and find localized service and information."

"I've never seen a Best of the Web entry -- or anyone, for that matter -- make a better case that e-government is good for the environment," a judge said, referencing CA.gov's explanation of the millions of pounds of paper saved by e-government in California.

Both California and Boston, the top winner in the city category, made Web accessibility on mobile devices a priority in 2010.

One of Boston's new mobile device applications alerts citizens when their cars have been towed, and instructs them on where and how to retrieve them. It also explains the reason for the tow. "This one really changed the way people deal with being towed," said Bill Oates, Boston's CIO. He said the new application has significantly changed how Bostonians deal with their car being towed.

In the past, according to Boston Department of IT spokeswoman Sara Walsh, a citizen would first notice his or her car was missing and then wonder whether it was stolen or towed. Then the person would call the Police Department and then the state police, depending on what road the car was on. Citizens frequently made 10 to 12 phone calls before locating their cars, she said.

Now, alerting citizens immediately of a towing saves them money because Boston's towing lots charge for each 24-hour period the cars reside at them, Walsh explained. "If you were at work and you got towed, you may not notice it until you get home after business hours," she said. "That's already a 24-hour fee. You may not get it until the next day."

Andy Opsahl  |  Features Editor