When you think iceberg, you don't think Honolulu. But Hawaii's capital is the tip of what could become a very large iceberg, indeed.
In June, the city tacked a banner ad for the Bank of Hawaii onto the Honolulu Web site, becoming one of the first jurisdictions to accept advertising on a government Web site.
Some public officials take a dim view of this emerging practice, but e-gov companies, of course, think it's the best thing since, well, e-gov companies.
CIO Courtney Harrington said Honolulu didn't set out to be a pioneer. The city/ county jurisdiction simply needed a way to pay for adding e-commerce functions to its Web site.
"We didn't stop and say, 'Nobody has ever done this before; maybe we shouldn't do it.' We said, 'Here's a revenue stream.' The fact is that the only way we can bring electronic services to [citizens] is to allow a small amount of advertising," said Harrington.
An Avalanche of Ads?
According to city officials, Salt Lake City, Utah, has released an RFP to overhaul its Web site. Part of that RFP contains a provision to accept online advertising as a funding mechanism for the overhaul.
Massachusetts' Com-PASS Web page contains one banner ad, but the advertising space is specifically targeted to vendors who sell to the state and state agencies. The state's Central Reprographics and the Office of Vehicle Management run ads on the Com-PASS Web page.
Iowa, Florida and Ohio want to post ads, and Iowa is very close to releasing an RFP to start the process.
Kansas is a bit more leery and has created a subcommittee to study the issue. Lisa Counts, director of marketing of the Information Network of Kansas, is the chair of the subcommittee examining the issue.
"We're trying to determine best practices, what hurdles other states are encountering and, generally, what's going on out there," said Counts. "We're trying to come to some sort of conclusion for our state agencies. Some of the agencies are big, but some are very small and don't have legal counsel or resources like that. They're looking for some guidance from the state."
While attempting to reach a consensus on just how large a role the state should play in crafting policy addressing online advertising, the committee is also debating issues, such as whether advertisements should appear on only the state's Web site or on individual state agency Web sites.
In addition, Kansas is looking at where the revenue would go: If the state's Department of Commerce and Housing decides to accept advertising, would that revenue go to the department or back to the state?
And what about large, out-of-state corporations advertising on the state's Web site? "That's a big issue," said Counts. "The Department of Commerce and Housing has told us, 'It's our job to promote [in-state companies], and we want to bring business to Kansas. If we publicize Microsoft, does that compete with our local companies?'"
Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, who also serves as the state's secretary of commerce, has concerns about the state accepting advertising on its Web site.
"Frankly, I don't think we need the revenue that badly," he said. "I believe there are a lot of pitfalls and, if we do something, I want it to be well thought-out. It's an issue that deserves a lot of attention, and this is one area where I don't want to be first or second or third."
Iowa, on the other hand, needs the revenue, said Dan Combs, director of digital government. The state has released an RFP to solicit what he calls "Web-site sponsorship."
"We were given the charge by the Legislature this past