Best of the Web

An introduction to the World Wide Web and what it could mean to state and local government information gathering and distribution

by / August 31, 1995
Sept 95 Vendors: Wired; Time; Fortune; Business Week; Prodigy; America Online; CompuServe; Microsoft; Silicon Graphics; State Technologies Inc.; Jurisdictions: California Resources Agency; Kentucky; Hampton Roads County, Va.; Use Solution Summary? NO By Michael Nevins State Technologies Inc

A media blitz has taken the Internet from the cover of Wired magazine to the cover of Time, Fortune and Business Week. Everyone wants to get on the Internet whether they know why or not. It is no longer the deep, dark chasm into which only scientists, academics and computer programmers dare voyage

Thanks to the World Wide Web (WWW) the Internet is now quite easy to access and use. A number of "point and click" web browsers provide an interface roughly similar to Windows or a Macintosh. Users can search documents linked by Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). HTML also allows pictures, movies and sound files to be embedded into documents to give the WWW the look and feel of online magazines or brochures. Online service providers like Prodigy, America Online, CompuServe and others have added millions of Internet users by embedding web browsers in their software. Millions of Windows 95 buyers will also have embedded Internet access

But while web browsers opened a window into the world of the Internet and attracted millions of new users, the jury is still out over whether Marc Andreessen - the person most often credited with creating the original web browser Mosaic - has produced the greatest time-saving device for research or the biggest desktop distraction since solitaire. One word of caution - it can be incredibly addictive

Content Means Everything Corporations are falling all over themselves to establish web sites to showcase products and service offerings. They are developing online catalogs of information for potential buyers. The web is an ideal medium to distribute the information normally contained in glossy brochures

There is arguably no industry more information-intensive than government and the public is demanding access to data as never before. The web is becoming the communications medium of choice to publish the myriad of data collected by government agencies

Kris Hagerman, a member of the WebForce team at Silicon Graphics, said at a recent conference on the Internet, "With all due respect to anyone with a real estate background, location means nothing, content means everything." While there are some location considerations, like having your web site listed by the variety of search indexes like Yahoo ( or the WWW Virtual Library (, what he said is generally accurate. Web sites are like magazines. The cover - or home page - must be appealing enough to generate interest, but if the content does not grab and keep that interest, the user is not likely to return to that site or subscribe

CALIFORNIA RESOURCES AGENCY One agency that has created a web site worth visiting and returning to is the California Resources Agency ( They have developed an information system that facilitates access to the variety of electronic data describing California's natural resources. CERES, as it is called, uses technology to coordinate data and promote public involvement in decision-making. It is not a new computer system but a means of integrating and distributing existing information pertaining to ecosystems, resources and management

"CERES helps to meet the great public demand for information, about California's rich and diverse natural heritage, faster and more efficiently than has been possible before," said Secretary for Resources Douglas P

Wheeler. "CERES assists land owners, resource managers and planners in progressing from traditional conservation strategies to a broader ecosystem approach to conservation." If content is everything, these people have assembled a ton of it. It is particularly well-organized.A considerable frustration found in many new web sites are dead ends or links to no data. The information on the California Resources Agency site is about the physical environment, living creatures and their habitats, environmental impact reports and studies. The resource information is available in a variety of forms - including text, photos, satellite images, statistical databases, and Geographic Information System (GIS) analyses - and comes from numerous sources including local, state and federal agencies, academic institutions and community groups

VISIT THESE GOVERNMENT SITES The web is an incredibly fascinating and powerful medium. Its popularity has only just begun to take off. While businesses are jumping onto the web very quickly, there is no reason to think governments won't be quick to follow. Some governments have already made considerable investments in their web sites. A few suggestions for other government sites to visit: * Kentucky * Hampton Roads County, Va.: * Chicago: Michael Nevins is a co-founder and director of State Technologies Inc., a nonprofit research group. State Technologies sponsors public policy and technology forums and publishes the web service Government On Line: E-mail address: