While the World Wide Web works great as a fancy display device, the real power of the Web lies in interactivity. In fact, a number of innovative government agencies these days are offering custom Web pages on-the-fly for Web site visitors. These organizations have discovered that harnessing the Web's inherent interactivity can create highly personalized and responsive Web experiences that simultaneously build user loyalty and burnish their organization's image. In essence, these next-generation interactive Web sites take advantage of a simple truth: People who take the trouble to visit a government Web site are generally extremely thirsty for information. Take the time to offer slick ways to quench that thirst, and there is a good chance an organization's public-service image will shine with a new luster.
Fortunately, one of the inspiring things about the Web is that new twists on interactivity are emerging all the time. What follows is a sampling of key interactive elements that should be considered for any government Web site looking to go interactive.
Web Site Search Engines
Too many Web sites are little more than elephantine filing cabinets floating in cyberspace. There's plenty of information, but digging for it can be irksome. On-site search engines help solve this problem by fetching very specific data for very specific needs.
One of the most impressive of this ilk is the on-site search engine for the state of California. Visitors here can enter searches by agency, subject, what's new and text queries -- and even target specific government computers for their searches. Meanwhile, visitors to the San Francisco Public Library's Web site can do a complete search of the institution's holdings.
A variation on the search engine, data drills enable Web site visitors to narrow their quest for information to an ever-finer point. At the Web site for the city of San Diego, for example, visitors can point-and-click their way through a plethora of regional maps that offer highly detailed and specific information about local soils, assessment fees, city planning and the like.
At Colorado's Web site, prospective interns can "drill down" from a comprehensive list of state intern offerings for individual programs at 22 state departments. At the Nebraska Educational Service Web site, visitors can access a comprehensive map offering pointers to the Web sites of many of the state's schools.
Request for More Information Forms
A fundamental facet of any interactive Web site, formalized request for more info forms are, unfortunately, still the exception on the Web. One site with an especially sophisticated twist on this capability is that of the California Trade and Commerce Agency. By filling out a simple online form, businesses can receive a steady stream of custom-tailored, profit-building data via e-mail from the agency.
Meanwhile, at the Georgia Division of Public Health Web site, visitors can request a birth certificate over the Web and print out forms for other standard informational requests.
New York City
The best sales people find ways to encourage potential customers to sell themselves on a product. Who said government agencies cannot take a page from this book? Web sites for New York City's mayor and Boston's mayor put their best foot forward by offering looky-lous an intimate, interactive tour of their local governments and the responsibilities of their illustrious mayors.
Like Mount Everest, too many video cameras are being connected to the Net just because they're there. Fortunately, the Washington State Department of Transportation is leveraging Webcams usefully. For the Puget Sound region, the state DOT offers video snapshots updated every 90 seconds of Puget Sound arteries shot from 50 locations. Virtually everyone in the Puget Sound region can check up on their local bottleneck trouble spots from the comfort of their homes.