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Websites for the Real World (Opinion)

Best of the Web winners know how to interact with citizens.

by / August 31, 2012

From the Louisville Metro Government home page, users can sign up for text alerts from the city, order accident reports or watch streaming video of community meetings. Alabama’s home page features responsive design that renders the site viewable on any mobile device, and its social media portal offers extensive links to agency social network sites. And the Orange County, Fla., website lets residents report problems to the city 311 center via Web chat or download a mobile 311 app for their smartphone.

Each of these sites topped its category in the 16th annual Best of the Web Awards, released by e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government in August. The survey has rated government websites on their functionality, innovation, efficiency and economy since 1996.

Coincidentally, that’s the same year I joined Government Technology, and I’m struck by how far public-sector websites have come since I began paying close attention 16 years ago — and by how much the winning sites mirror my own preferences for interacting with government and private companies.

Like most people, I use my smartphone for more than just voice calls. I have mobile apps to transfer money between bank accounts, access electronic airline boarding passes, check the weather, play music and perform other everyday activities. And, of course, the Internet has become my first stop for accessing information and paying for services.

So when I look at this year’s winning sites — as well as the survey’s other highly rated portals — I see features I want to use in my own life. I’m ready for a mobile app that lets me report potholes to my city — or even better, lets me send a photo. I’m not a great Facebooker, but I realize agency Facebook pages can be a great way to ask questions or follow community issues. And I certainly want a text or a tweet from my county that alerts me of local emergencies.

The public sector’s best websites are raising the bar for the things that really matter to residents and constituents, providing better usability, accessibility and transparency. They’re optimized for mobile users, they’re packed with electronic transactions, they integrate useful social media and they genuinely rival the best the private sector has to offer.

A decade ago, we pointed out statistics like the sheer number of pages included in public portals. One of my own stories from 2001 proudly notes that one major city’s website included more than 30,000 pages of content.

Citizens still want city, state and county websites to include comprehensive information, but we expect to reach that content from a phone or tablet within a few clicks. And we expect to interact electronically in meaningful ways — whether it’s renewing a license, scheduling a service or submitting a suggestion.

It’s a long — and continually growing — list. But 2012’s Best of the Web winners are meeting those demands, and then some. 

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Steve Towns Executive Editor
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