Web City

A handful of city governments also have begun to use the Web to interact with their residents.

In Palo Alto, Calif., municipal leaders are trying to use the Web to encourage old-fashioned interactivity: getting to know your neighbors.

Because of an increasingly fast-paced lifestyle, many people do not share information with their neighbors and others in the community as much as they did in the past, said Sharon Murphy, coordinator of family resources for the city.

"What we're trying to do is make more users comfortable about stepping forward and using services, in terms of knowing what they're doing and who they're working with," Murphy said. "If people feel connected...then they will use the system. If they feel disenfranchised...then they will not step forward. This whole thing is about our community, and all our services are for them."

Palo Alto's Family Resources site is how the city plans to bring together government and neighborhoods. The site is divided into broad service categories such as health care, emergency services and basic needs. Within each category are an array of services and descriptions of how citizens can access them.

In addition, officials have tried to design the site to make it as inviting as possible to visitors, Murphy said. There are photographs of the city officials who head up each service, with a recording of the official's voice describing the services. The site also allows users to provide feedback that officials can use to tweak human services.

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