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Eagleton Institute of Politics - 60th Anniversary
Eagleton Institute of Politics

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E-Gov: Archive of American Politics


Cold War and McCarthyism

The initial use of the Internet by state governments primarily focused on the publication of information by individual state agencies developing and maintaining their own Web sites. In many states, the freedom given to departments led to wide variations in the design and content of sites with limited inter-departmental collaboration or links to other relevant resources. 

The recognition that electronic publication could serve as a more efficient means to organize how agencies published information ultimately led to increased efforts to coordinate publication, sometimes initiated by governors' offices or chief fiscal or information officers. This coordination produced increased numbers of links to other state agencies and sometimes to outside resources of the federal or local governments, nonprofit organizations and, in a few cases, private sector commercial resources such as lodging, dining or  employment services. The movement toward more centralized control of Web publication also produced greater consistency in the graphic design of Webs and the organization and presentation of content, including site-wide directories and search engines.

Most states have now departed from the initial departmental focus and organization to develop sites better designed to reflect user interests. In addition to the increased use of links among agencies, several states have  incorporated gateway portals with themes intended to assist targeted user groups, such as taxpayers, consumers, businesses or prospective investors or tourists, and to reorganize information by function regardless of its departmental or agency source.

Subsequent efforts to improve usability of sites included the incorporation of tools to allow personalization of services, such as by providing online tools to specify the type of information or services in which the user is most interested (e.g. New Jersey); customized e-mail updates of recent developments or services of interest e.g. My California); site-wide search engines (e.g. State of Washington); and "frequently-asked question" features (North Carolina).

In addition to making the sites user-friendly in the publication of information, more recent trends, aided by technology improvements in security and transmission speed, have stressed increased use of the Internet to conduct government transactional services.  Most states now offer some online transactional services, with the most popular features tax filing and driver license and vehicle registration renewals. These services also are expected to expand rapidly with the introduction of new advances in security and speed of servers utilizing broadband networks.

There are now various surveys and competitions ranking states and local governments, but most differ markedly in the criteria used for their assessment. The leading online sources for information on state and local government use of Internet and other information technologies include the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), the Council of State Governments; the National Governors Association; and the National Council of State Legislatures. Media sources include Government Technology; Federal Computer Week; and PoliticsOnline.com.

In 2005, Delaware earned first place in the Center for Digital Government's annual Best of the Web awards for state government. Delaware.gov was cited, among other features, for being the first state site to offer "podcasting," allowing users of Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod music players to download snippets on the history of the state and to receive automated notices on breaking state news. Other award-winning state Webs were Tennessee, followed by Indiana, Washington and Virginia. A division of publisher e.Republic Inc., the Center also judges county and city websites.