A decade ago, before Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule, outgoing British administrators noticed that government hotlines in the former crown colony had grown conspicuously cold, despite their proliferation. 

Residents were overwhelmed by more than 1,000 hotlines that were supposed to be their one way to access government information and services. Hong Kong consolidated the hotlines around a single number -- 1823 -- that, owing to the good fortune associated with the number eight in the culture, was promoted as being as easy as 1-2-3, but with a bit of luck. 

What was true of hotlines then is true of government Web sites now. 

The United Kingdom, this time on its home ground, was among the first to oppose the proliferation of Web pages, microsites and what were called with characteristic British candor "vanity sites" that don't serve a unique, useful purpose. After the change, only 26 of 951 official government sites will remain live, 551 are slated to be shut down, and content from hundreds of others will be consolidated into the 26 more focused and fully featured sites. 

"That is very similar to what Massachusetts has been doing," said Susan Parker, director of Mass.gov, the commonwealth's Web site. 

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Paul W. Taylor  |  Contributing Writer