E-Government: How’s It Working?

Generally, I loathe government Web sites. With few exceptions, I find them to be convoluted, jargon-filled, user-unfriendly, and difficult to navigate. Plus, server errors and broken links seem especially rampant on government sites.

Still, government sites tend to be more convenient and marginally more helpful than visiting or calling government agencies, in my experience – at least when I just want to get information or a form, not to try to resolve a problem. I would definitely rather search an online library for a form and download it than wrestle on the phone with an ill-informed bureaucrat who will then fax me precisely the wrong document.

It seems like my assessment of interacting with the US government online is not unusual. On May 24 the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a report, How Americans Get in Touch with Government, which “…takes stock of how e-government is faring by placing e-gov in the context of the other ways people get in touch with government, such as telephone calls, in-person visits, and letters.”

The bottom line? “Users say that e-gov improves their relationship with government. It is important to note, however, that there is no independent effect of Internet use on the chances of success with government.” Also, the report says that Americans still tend to use traditional channels of contact (phone calls or in-person visits) more than online channels (Web or e-mail) when dealing with government.

In other words, dealing with the US government remains frustrating, whether online or offline. It’s just easier to establish government contact online.

It doesn’t have to be so frustrating, though….
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Webfeed Content: Synopsis Only, or Full-Text?

In the online world, people seem to have very strong opinions concerning which type of webfeed content is better: webfeeds that offer only headlines and a synopsis (or the first few sentences of the entry), or webfeeds that contain the full text of each entry.

Which type of feed content should you offer with your site or weblog? Here’s my opinion: If possible, offer BOTH types. Let individuals select the webfeed option they prefer.

(NOTE: Yes, I realize that currently this weblog only offers a synopsis webfeed. That will change shortly. When I switch to new blogging software, I will offer both types of feed.)

Aside from your audience’s personal preferences, there are some other reasons why offering both types of webfeed content is a good idea. Each has its own uses and advantages…
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Do Webfeeds Help or Hurt Site Traffic?

On June 3, Dave Winer wrote an article answering this question: Would a big media company lose traffic if they supported RSS? (RSS is one type of webfeed, and Winer was a key creator of the RSS technical standard.)

This piece a good, timely complement to my June 4 article, How Many People Read Your Webfeed?

Winer’s main point, with which I heartily agree, is this: “I don’t think that providing [webeeds], if you do it right, lowers traffic, in fact I think you can gain traffic.”

I both agree and disagree with Winer’s other points…
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Prettier Wikis? Tool Reviews

Last week I wrote about wikis and their e-learning potential. I like wikis, a lot. However, my main gripe is that they are generally rather ugly and not very user-friendly.

Recently James Farmer, who writes the e-learning weblog Incorporated Subversion, evaluated some wiki tools (hosted services and standalone applications) for possible use in a wiki he wants to build. More tools were recommended and described in the comments to that entry. Well worth reading.

I’m especially intrigued by one wiki service Farmer describes…
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How Many People Read Your Webfeed?

From the perspective of many online publishers, webfeeds (whether RSS or Atom format) have one big shortcoming: In most cases, it’s difficult or impossible to know how many people subscribe to your webfeed.

Circulation numbers have always been the cornerstone of the publishing world, and that hasn’t changed in the online age. This is especially true if a site’s business model hinges at all on advertising, or on leveraging relationships with readers to sell other products or services, or to promote a particular organization or issue. For those sites, offering a webfeed feels a bit dangerous – they don’t necessarily fear losing readers, but rather losing track of how many readers they have.

Webfeed metrics is a complex issue that mainly boils down to technology. Most content and publishing people aren’t technical specialists. However, this is one technical area that online publishers probably should understand (on at least a basic level) and follow major developments.

Here are a few good resources to get you started…
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Art: Nudes vs. Prudes

Having just returned from a brief vacation in the gallery-rich city of Santa Fe, I’m feeling more attuned to the world of visual art. Which is why this online art contest, recently brought to my attention by my friend Kit Cassingham, has me rolling on the floor with alternate guffaws and groans.

Check it out: Worth 1000 (a contest site) recently held Work-Safe Art contest, in which entrants used Photoshop software to decently clothe the great nudes of art history. The point was to make these masterpieces “safe” for viewing by children or at the office.

More on this…
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Vote Blog?

I’m visiting Santa Fe, NM for a few days. County elections are coming up soon here, as evidenced by the many political lawn signed scattered on every street corner.

One sign in particular kept catching my interest. It proclaims, in large red letters on a yellow background: “Blog.”

Turns out it has nothing to do with weblogs. Rather it’s advertising Tom Blog – a candidate for Santa Fe County Commissioner. Of course, Mr. Blog (big “b”) has a blog (small “b”).

Man, with a name like that, he’s in the wrong field!