Selling Cities on the Web

In our cover story this month, we examine some of the problems civic Webmasters face as they lead their governments onto the World Wide Web. "Selling Cities on the Web," by free-lance writer Heather Harreld, was inspired by a workshop for Webmasters hosted by Public Technology Inc. during PTI's annual membership conference in April.

Webmasters from across the country shared their ideas about making their city Web sites more productive and meaningful sources of information and public service. Most of the attendees were surviving on a pretty spare technology diet. But as they described their successes and failures, is was clear that their primary job had less to do with technology than it did with educating-and cajoling-agency officials about the power and problems that come with reaching citizens via the Web.

One of the biggest challenges confronting the Webmasters is organizational: how to manage a common electronic publishing system for multiple agency organizations with different missions, cultures and political leaders. It's clear that in today's city government environment, the Webmaster has to be part politician, part policy wonk, part field marshal and part technologist-more or less in that order.

Another major theme at the workshop involved exploiting the commercial power of the Web without offending the public's standard of acceptability or its rights of expression. Questions arose: Does your city Web site accept advertising? If not, why does your city's bus system carry advertising? What is your city's policy for linking its Web site to another site?

Some of these questions are fleshed out in our cover story this month. Whatever your policies are, however, you might have to revise them fairly soon. That's because the Web itself is changing so fast, it exerts changes on government affairs equally as fast.

For instance, another story in this issue covers how some state and local governments are using Web video to deliver coverage of government at work. Some jurisdictions are Webcasting legislative sessions live. Others are making video clips and programming such as public service announcements available for the public to download.

The ability of governments to take to the air-or Internet-introduces a host of policy and technology questions for public-sector information technology officials. We hope this story and others in this issue help you sort through some of these questions as your agency becomes even more connected to the Internet.

Paul McCloskey

Editor

civic.com

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