Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Improving Town and City Websites

Deval Patrick and Tim Murray's transition group on Technology and Community had an online transitional meeting where people offerred ideas via the website and the committee members were reading and answering in real time. Lots of great ideas came out of that thread: here was mine.

I suggested that the state offer help for towns to improve their websites - to both get more information on them, make them more accessible and interesting and be tools from which to help build the communities and a sense of community. In illustrating the usefulness of the real-time, online format, Cos expanded on my idea.

Forcing cities and towns into a particular service or web template may not be such a hot idea, but I didn't see that being suggested. The state could offer services to cities and towns that they could choose to use. For example:

  • Mailing list service: Town chooses the names of the lists and basic list policy (such as, is it an announce-only list or one for open discussion, can anyone join or must subscriptions be approved, etc.). State provides list management software running on a state server with per-town domain names (so you could have snowemergencies@framingham.statedomain), public-accessible & searchable web archive.
  • Credit card processing: A state web site wants to allow people to pay their parking tickets, excise tax bills, water bills, whatever, online. Easy to plug in state system can provide credit card processing they can use, with an API that makes it easy to tie in to a local web site and feed the money to the correct place.
  • Web design: People whose main job is to work on the state web sites, but whose services are available to cities and towns who need web design work done for them and don't have someone. Many towns don't have enough need for this to justify a staffer of their own, which means they end up paying much
    higher contractor rates when they do need it; combining the effort statewide would save money overall, and would also make it easier for towns to get a good design that they otherwise couldn't afford.
  • Oh, and add video hosting to the list! Once a city or town has made a video of some public meeting or event, give them a place to host it that the state will pay for and maintain indefinitely, so they can keep it available (and integrated into the city web site if they want).
Like I said, great ideas. In the quest to add some much needed improvements to the state website, let's make sure town and city websites are brought into the 21st century too.


Anonymous said...

Government Community Access can do webcasting now - they do it in many places. And the state doesn't have to pay for it.

mdhatter said...

Those are great ideas. I think online access to public records (assessors are now common, but not board of health, conservation commissions, inspections) is also a plus, but is obviously more of a long term goal.

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