AOL's governmentguide leads people to agencies

A new World Wide Web site launched by American Online aims to make agency

information easier for people to find.

The Internet service provider had a soft launch in December for www.governmentguide.com,

which organized agency Web sites based on the services they provide. For

example, looking for benefits information would be connected to the Department

of Veteran Affairs, the Department of Labor Pension and Benefits Agency,

the Social Security Agency and Internal Revenue Service sites.

"We have taken and organized government Web sites in a way that makes sense

and helps people find things from all agency Web sites," James Vaughn, programming

manager at AOL, said during a demonstration for agency representatives Wednesday.

"People might not be aware what agency would be responsible for handling

their specific needs."

AOL is working to link users to state and local agencies based on a person's

zip code. When a person types in their zip code, only government Web sites

within a certain radius will be listed. National and federal organizations

will also be included in the local lists, Vaughn said.

The AOL site provides a window to agency Web sites, so AOL personnel cannot

record confidential information, Vaughn said. The Internet provider also

does not keep demographics on the users accessing the agency sites and does

not charge a fee for using the site.

Governmentguide.com, which is not restricted to AOL and Netscape members,

also allows people to file complaint forms with agency offices. By answering

a few questions and filling in a few blanks, AOL software will create the

appropriate form and provide directions on how to submit the complaint to

agency departments.

People can also rate government Web sites on their ease of use, and the

results will be posted on the AOL site. The agency with the highest rating

to date is the Internal Revenue Service. People said it had a simple, easy-to-use

design, Vaughn said.

"It is an opportunity for [agencies] to get some constructive criticism

and perhaps make changes to [their] Web sites to make them more user friendly,"

he said.

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