Top of the Heap

California and New York City take Best of the Web honors.

by / October 2, 2001
Web sites from California and New York City set the standard for moving government operations online, according to the seventh annual Best of the Web contest sponsored by Government Technology magazine and the Center for Digital Government.

The MyCalifornia portal topped 168 competing entries to win Best of the Webs state government category, while New York Citys NYC.gov site beat out entries from more than 200 other jurisdictions to capture the local division. Sites were scored on their ability to deliver innovative citizen services and improve internal efficiency. Number-one rankings represent significant improvement for both California and New York City, neither of which cracked Best of the Webs top-five last year.

Trailing California in this years state government category were Pennsylvania, Maine, Virginia and Washington. Rounding out the top five in the local division were Web sites from Montgomery County, Md.; Conyers, Ga.; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; and Chicago.

Last years winners - North Carolina and Seattle -- were ineligible for this years competition. Instead, they served as members of the Best of the Web judging panel.

Cathelia Robinett, executive director of the Center for Digital Government, called this years entries the strongest in the history of the contest. "The sites, in general, are very good," she said. "Everybody is getting better."

One-stop, portal-style sites dominated the competition, according to Robinett. All five state finalists followed the portal model, as did most of the top local government entries. Another trend, she said, is introduction of real-time help features that allow users to chat online with Web site staff to resolve problems. Virginias state portal, for example, gives users a "Live Help" option at the bottom of its opening page.

Although government Web sites showed across-the-board improvement, the top-ranked California and New York City entries stood out in an extremely competitive field, said Robinett. "California is a beautiful site that is easy to navigate and offers a variety of online services, and New York City has an extremely robust site."

State Winners
Californias $2 million Web portal debuted in January 2001 and now draws 1 million hits per day, according to state officials. Completed in slightly more than 100 days, the site offers content from a diverse set of state agencies and gives users access to about a dozen online services. It also provides a customizable interface that invites users to tailor content to fit their needs.

"We developed MyCalifornia to deliver a superior level of customer service to citizens and businesses, while streamlining government processes," said Arun Baheti, the states eGovernment director. "Its an honor to be named the nations best by the Center for Digital Government."

California worked with more than a dozen contractors to fashion a technological framework strong enough to host new e-government services and flexible enough to accommodate existing applications, according to Baheti. In the future California intends to host both state and local e-government applications on the site.

Best of the Web judges were particularly impressed with MyCalifornias wireless services, said Robinett. The state unveiled a comprehensive wireless component of the portal in June, offering lottery results, energy alerts, traffic updates, executive orders and other information to citizens via PDAs and Web-enabled cellular phones. Users also may browse the MyCalifornia site using wireless devices.

Launched 10 months ago, the second-ranked PA PowerPort site won high marks from Best of the Web judges for its variety of online applications and user-friendly design. Currently available electronic services include vehicle registration, drivers license renewal, and hunting and fishing license sales. In addition, the site offers electronic tax filing, uniform crime statistics and other applications aimed at business users.

Typical of the best government portal sites, the PowerPorts content is arranged functionally rather than by department. It also lets users customize sections of the site to fit their needs.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge welcomed recognition for the states aggressive Web initiative. "My administration has emphasized the smart use of technology to improve education, economic development and government operations," said Ridge. "This award recognizes the innovative steps weve taken on our portal to make government services available to Pennsylvanians around the clock."

Maines state home page took third place on the strength of thoughtful electronic services like RemindMe, which e-mails citizens when its time to renew their drivers license, vehicle registration and voting registration. The site, which received an honorable mention in last years Best of the Web, offers nearly 40 electronic transactions and allows citizens to renew 131 types of professional licenses.

A recent redesign of the site boosted traffic by 300 percent, according to state officials. The site logged 13 million hits in April 2001.

Local Winners
New York Citys top-ranked entry is one of the few local government sites that allow citizens to personalize its content, said Robinett. Judges also appreciated the sites "I want to" section, which groups access to the most commonly requested city services under a single heading.

In all, the New York City site includes more than 30,000 pages of content and more than 100 transactional services, according to the city. Officials say the site experienced over 52 million page views in fiscal 2001, more than doubling its fiscal 1999 traffic.

"I am pleased that NYC.gov has been recognized for putting city government at the publics fingertips," said Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. "Whether you need to pay a parking ticket, get a birth certificate or check traffic conditions on our roads, NYC.gov is your one-stop portal for online city services and information."

Among the sites more unusual offerings are online traffic hearings and a one-stop e-payment center that allows citizens to pay parking tickets, locate towed vehicles and research property tax payment histories. In addition, the citys site includes links to a number of state agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Division of Criminal Justice and Department of Taxation and Finance.

Second place in the local division went to Montgomery County, Md., which delivers 35 online applications through its eMontgomery portal. Among other things, citizens may pay property taxes, pay parking fines, renew library books, and purchase bus and rail passes through the attractively designed site.

The site also links citizens to virtual tours of county recreation areas and allows them to register and pay for recreation and leisure classes online. Users receive e-mail confirmation for all transactions performed through the portal.

Conyers, Ga., a city of 10,000 people located near Atlanta, finished third with an e-government site that provides practical services such as online tax and traffic fine payments and access to police accident and incident reports. Citizens also may use the site to request city services such as streetlight repair and replacement garbage cans.

Conyers officials said the development of the site was driven by the fact that 65 percent of the citys citizens commute to Atlanta each workday and are unable to conduct face-to-face government transactions during regular business hours.
Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.