Will Facebook Replace Traditional Government Web Sites?

San Francisco CIO Chris Vein sees shift toward new Web channels for service delivery.    

by / February 24, 2010

Like most big cities, San Francisco runs a Web site packed with hundreds of pages of city services, department listings, community information and other resources. But SFgov.org's days as the primary electronic gateway into San Francisco government may be numbered.

Chris Vein, CIO for the city and county of San Francisco, said popular Web 2.0 platforms like Facebook or Google's search-driven suite of services may be displacing public-sector Web sites for many citizen-government interactions.

"We're seeing a fundamental shift in the way services are being delivered," said Vein, speaking Tuesday, Feb. 23, at the California CIO Academy, a two-day forum for government IT leaders in Sacramento. "We're looking at perhaps the end of a Web site for the city and county of San Francisco. I'm being overly dramatic, but Web sites may no longer be the primary way you get your information."

For instance, Vein pointed to the growing number of Facebook members who use the social media site as their home base on the Web. "For a certain demographic, Facebook is the only way for entering into a conversation with the rest of the world. They rely on it for their e-mail and other services," he said.

San Francisco's Facebook page already has more than 260,000 fans. The page announces city activities and gives users a place to comment on community issues. It also offers links to city services and video from city government-related events.

"On the city Facebook page, we have enabled all of the services that are available on our Web site," Vein said. "For instance, you can pay your parking ticket on the city Facebook site. We're looking at this as just another portal into the city. It's an experiment."

Facebook -- which has more than 200 million active users -- and other social network sites could become primary conduits for government services and information, Vein said.

"I think that's where we're going with this, and it's going to change the fundamental nature of government along the way," he said. "I'm thinking I need to reorganize how I'm presenting information."