This is Part II in a two-part series of articles reporting on the findings of a national survey of public managers on the Future of Public Sector Internet Services For Citizen Participation and Service Delivery. The study was conducted by John O'Looney of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and was supported by the National Science Foundation. The respondents were drawn from state and federal government subscribers to Government Technology and from local government officials from communities with populations over 50,000.
One of the more important strategies emerging from the business side of the Internet is the idea of information syndication. Information syndication occurs whenever an information provider contracts with several producers of information in order to reshape (and possibly resell) the information in new, more digestible, compact or comprehensive formats.
Many of the more successful Web portals, or sites where a person can easily access any of the available services provided by an organization, as well as other related or value-added information, are based in part on a syndication model. The more commercial of these sites bring in local weather and sports or personalize stock or news information. The information itself may come from several different original sources. For example, with respect to financial information, the portal may bring in stock charts from Big Charts, research opinions from Merrill Lynch, and breaking news from Reuters or CNN.
If personalized government portals are to provide the same level of service that exists in many of the better private-sector Web portals, they will also likely need to follow a syndication model. The appropriateness of governments acting as syndicates of content generated by nongovernmental organizations or interest groups is a question that is rarely raised in the context of print media. As such, government policy makers and managers have little experience on which to develop policies for the Internet.
In addition, the experience of governments with the appropriateness question in the print world may not be particularly applicable to the Web environment. For example, in the print world, one can easily distinguish among three ways of including outside information:
1) government publishing information that comes from outside under its own imprimatur; 2) government acceptance of an advertisement from an outside party; and
3) the inclusion of a footnote reference to a publication of an outside group within an article written by a government official.
These cases also appear in the Web environment, but in addition, in a Web environment, one can provide a link to an outside resource (with or without identifying the link as going to a nongovernmental Web site) or, one can automatically incorporate the information from outside within the framework and brand of the government. Although there are parallels to print-world situations, there are also major differences. For example, incorporation of an article created by an outside source into a government publication typically involves some individual review of the article's content; links and automated incorporation can often occur without any review of the appropriateness of the information to which the article is being linked. Even if the information is reviewed, the outside content creator, without the government's knowledge or approval, may change it the next day.
In addition, while the linked material may be found acceptable, the links that go from this material to other resources may facilitate a reader accessing content that would be objectionable to the government. The answer to the question of appropriateness of syndication is obviously one that will involve more than simply following one or more paper-world metaphors.
The respondents were asked to assess the appropriateness of governments offering hyperlinks to particular types of information related to governmental issues but that are produced by organizations outside of government. The appropriateness level was measured in terms of the frequency at which respondents felt that government-sponsored personalization services should make