10 great public-sector websites

Federal, state and local Web managers are getting the message that public-facing websites must be useful, easily accessible and interactive for visitors, as this year's roundup of great government sites shows.

Government Web managers are getting the message: Great agency websites must be blazing fast and easy to navigate and offer access to information — including financial data, meeting transcripts and contracting records — not traditionally provided to the public.

In the past three years, GCN has recognized government websites that stood out from the rest of the pack in their uses and adaptations of new technologies.

Although speed and usability are critical, this last feature — delivering on the promise of transparency by serving data about how government operates and tax dollars are spent — sets this year’s field of government websites apart.

Last year, we spotlighted innovative Web applications. In 2009, we picked agencies that incorporated social networking with progressive uses of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In 2008, we noted agencies that were early adopters of the Web as their primary medium for interacting with constituents.

This year, the push for open government and information transparency has had a great influence on the design and features of public-sector websites. Many federal, state and municipal agencies have used the Web to open avenues for the public to track economic stimulus money and spending. How well agencies incorporated transparency was a major criteria for our choices this year. Accordingly, the use of data visualization, mapping and graphics, in addition to high-performance search and uses of social media and video, were strong factor’s in this year’s choices. 

Although this is not a quantitative list — the field is way too broad to accurately measure — the following sites use technology and techniques in ways that bear that out.

baybridge360.org Bay Bridge 360:
Swaying the public interest
 
Keeping traffic flowing on one of the nation's busiest bridges — while simultaneously making the structure safe from earthquakes — demands new levels of innovation, not to mention public patience. The website Bay Bridge 360 attends to both.
www.ca.gov California.gov: A front door
to state agencies

State officials have described www.ca.gov as a front door to all California state department websites. Additionally, there are links to location-based search, social media links and subscription feeds.
www.census.gov

Census.gov: Measuring America 
Census.gov contains a treasure trove of information about the changing population of the United States. It's interactive, multimedia features offers visitors the past and present of the U.S. population.

www.cityofalbany.net Albany, Ore.:
Minding the public purse

Officials in Albany, Ore., take the question "Where do my taxes go" seriously. They set up a page on the cityofalbany.net website to present the answers in a way that residents can easily understand.
www.disasterassistance.gov DisasterAssistance.gov:
A portal in the storm

Anyone who has been a victim of a disaster would find this website a welcome port in a storm. The site provides a one-stop shop for disaster victims to apply for federally funded assistance and access critical disaster information.
www.louisvilleky.gov LouisvilleKy.gov:
A site with the right priorities
 
Louisville, Ky.’s website is a good indicator that municipalities are getting the message that public-sector websites need to be less a purveyor of window dressing and more an intelligent browser of civic business.
www.maine.gov Maine.gov: A site for the independent-minded 
Need to register your snowmobile? If you’re a resident of Maine, you can do that online. In fact, residents can access a range of services online that they used to do in person, including renewing driver's licenses or paying fines.
www.nasa.gov NASA.gov: The outer reaches
of cyberspace

NASA.gov has something for everybody -- connecting with educators, students, policy-makers, scientists and journalists in a media-rich fashion -- because the agency listens to its users via many channels to learn what they are seeking.
www.recovery.gov

Recovery.gov: Point, click,
follow the money

Despite an inauspicious start in 2009, Recovery.gov is now a well-defined website that uses interactive mapping to present information in an accessible and informative way. Its data visualization features bring dry statistics to life.

www.whitehouse.gov WhiteHouse.gov:
Open gov meets open source

Powered by the open-source Drupal content management system, WhiteHouse.gov and the Obama administration are setting a template for transparency.
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