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you think of being green - the whole green initiative - we want to make it easier for the constituents to not have to leave their home to do simple transactions," said Sharon Cates-Williams, the New York state deputy CIO for IT delivery services. The state currently offers 450 types of online transactions and hopes to improve forms and documents it makes available to businesses and citizens. The New York redesign bid winner will have to fulfill this mission relatively cheaply; the project is capped by a $500,000 one-time appropriation.

Meanwhile, Georgia is similarly looking to improve its Web 2.0 presence and government-to-business service through its Georgia Portal Transformation project. The problem is that budget shortfalls are everywhere, according to Steve Nichols, chief technology officer of the Georgia Technology Authority. "A challenge is that it's a feast-or-famine environment. Our customer base is the rest of state government - they're all getting appropriation tied back to our revenue. This year, we're looking at at least 6 percent budget cuts," Nichols said.

 

Optimizing 2.0 Tools

These funding challenges are relevant because new mash-ups and Web 2.0 applications are coming to market with increasing frequency, so governments are expected to offer their services on more and more content channels. To name a few examples, public officials, such as Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, are posting videos to YouTube. The Portland (Ore.) Police Department is logging a page on Twitter with updates on crimes and safety hazards (in no more than 140 characters apiece), and municipalities are finding avenues for two-way communication with citizens (e.g., Fairfax County, Va., is asking the public to go online and suggest solutions for a projected $400 million budget deficit for fiscal 2010).

A Web portal can be the gateway to these kinds of content, and fortunately many Web 2.0 applications are inexpensive to build. But is all this stuff actually adding enough value to make it worthwhile to the bottom line? John Miri, a fellow with the Center for Digital Government and a former director of e-government and Web services for Texas, said the next generation of Web portals must first optimize the current Web 2.0 tools before looking to the future.

"Most people know they want to use 2.0 technology - they know what YouTube and Flickr are - but they aren't sure how they're going to apply it to government because the link between Web 2.0 and government isn't readily apparent," Miri said. Therefore, some of the Web 2.0 "bells and whistles" that governments are pursuing for their portals inevitably will be underutilized, Miri said.

The key to mining value from Web 2.0 is to tie those tools into core services, he said. That's because the average visitor to a Web portal only visits five to 10 times each year, according to Miri, for events like getting married, moving to a state, starting a business, obtaining social services or buying a car.

Miri cited RSS feeds as one technology that in many cases isn't being used to its full potential. "The surprising thing has been that many states haven't applied it in the obvious area, which is that RSS is great for publishing news information," he said. Some states, he said, use RSS for notification of expiration of licenses - the kind of purposes RSS isn't well suited for. Miri said many governors' offices use RSS effectively, but coverage is redundant because traditional media outlets cover them heavily anyway.

 

Trickle-up Innovation

Count on seeing a give and take among local and state IT shops in defining the next batch of must-have features for next-gen Web portals. "There's at least as much innovation at the city, county and school district level as there is at the state level," Miri said.

For example, Oakland County, Mich. - 2008 first-place finisher in the county portal category of the Best of

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor