Archive for the ‘Sunday Specials’ Category

San Jose City Website

April 19, 2009

Transparency:  Like many cities, you have to search to find videos of the city council meetings.  They aren’t available or linked from the City Council page.  You have to know to click on “open government” to find the video archives but at least they have them. “B”

Feedback:  There are a few opportunities to provide feedback to the city about plighted property, abandoned vehicles and an online police report.  Not only is it a pretty limited set of items but you have to guess that you would find them under “Online Forms.”  “C”

Richness of information: They have a very comprehensive section for the planning department include the ability to search and apply for permits online.  You need to register with them to access the permit application section.  They also have extensive information about various aspect of the building process including substantive areas such as plumbing, electrical and mechanical but also process information as well.  My only criticism is that it could be easier to find a link from the home page.  Instead, you have to go through city departments to find it.  “A-“

Transacting business:  There is a form “Registration Form for Business Tax” that can be filled out online but has to be submitted by mail or in-person.   There is a link from the home pages for “business information” and from there its pretty easy to find the form and other information about registering your business with the city.  “B”

Overall: San Jose is in the heart of the Silicon Valley and given its access to cutting-edge technology, I was surprised at how average the website is.  They aren’t particularly strong on providing interactivity for various aspects of doing business with the City but they do have a fair amount of information.  I didn’t find the website that easy to navigate either; you are frequently taken off the main URL and its not always clear where to go for information from the home page.  “B-“

City of Atlanta Website

April 12, 2009

City of Atlanta:

Transparency: Atlanta handles videos of it City Council the right way; they integrate the videos of council meeting with the agendas and minutes.  Its all together under one tab.  My only criticisms are that the label “legislation” is misleading as agenda meetings aren’t the same as the laws that are passed.  I would use the term “Activities.”    I also think that having the council pages on a separate website where its difficult to return to the municipal website’s homepage is a mistake as well.  B+

Feedback: Not much here.  There is a good form to report a pothole.  There is a tab for communication but its all one way; what the city wants to communicate to its citizens and not the other way around.  “C”

Richness of information:  For information about building permits for both residential and commercial, the website is quite weak.  For business permits there is simply a page with links to various approved permits and for residential permits there is a page that discusses the hours of the department.  They do not provide much information about types of permits or what’s required to obtain them. “D”

Transacting business:  It was easy to find out about apply for a business license from the “How do I” pull down on the homepage.  The link provides the forms but they must be filled out off-line and mailed to the appropriate city office.  “C+”

Overall: Atlanta’s municipal website is a mixed bag.  Decent navigation and transparency but not a lot of useful features or information.  Its time for a nice juicy site overhaul.  “C”

City of Portland Website

March 29, 2009

Transparency:  They have videos of city council meetings but navigating to them isn’t easy.  From the home page there is a link to city council agendas but they don’t include the video.  I had to pull down the tab for “services” and pick council and then find the videos.  This is a major problem with most municipal sites.  They allow where the resource is generated, in the case of video by public access television or the like, to determine how someone accesses it.  Even if there are limitations in where the videos are housed, there is no reason that a visible and prominent link can’t be made on the main page for city council resources.  “B”

Feedback: From the home page you mouse over “Services Request” and there are a list of services which you can request online including reporting an abandoned car, noise, construction permit, graffiti and the like.  What isn’t explained from this page is that you need to fill-out an online log-in account.  That would be useful.  “B-“

Richness of information: The City of Portland makes it very easy to find information about zoning and permits.  There is a clear link under “Business” for zoning and permits.  Once you click on that it takes you to the Bureau of Development Services which has done a really good job of laying out various types of permits and how to obtain them with a reassuring and sensible internal consistency.  “A-“

Transacting business:The City of Portland provides lots of business information under “start a Portland Business” but it places information about “new business” at the bottom of the page forcing you to scroll to get there.  The word “start” suggests “new” so resources relating to first time start up should be at the top of the page.  Also, you can’t fill-out forms online or submit them.  “C+”

Overall: This isn’t a bad website.  The materials regarding permits and zoning are quite good.  There appears to be lots of useful information but its not very interactive or easy to navigate.  For a city with such a progressive reputation I was expecting a website to reflect that and this one doesn’t. “B”

City of Columbus website: seen better

March 22, 2009

City of Columbus

Transparency:  Not one of the better municipal websites on this count.  There is no mention of streaming video of Council meetings where the agendas and other materials are located.  And while they have agendas posted as well as highlights, bulletins and other materials, its not clear that they have actual minutes of the meetings.  If they have videos and minutes of past meetings, they didn’t make them easy to find. “D”

Feedback: There is a link from the label for “Residents” to “report a problem” but when you get that page its a list of various services with no indication of how you would report a problem. “F”

Richness of Information:  Though its buried on a page for “business” there is an extensive series of links and information made available to building and construction issues including zoning, permits, taxes and inspections.  “B+”

Transacting business: Under the business tab there is a section called, “Starting a Business” which I thought would provide me the information I needed to get a City of Columbus business permit but instead its a series of links to other government sites where I can get information.  I think its a bad idea not to label links that leave the website as such.  “Resources” is the appropriate name for such links.  “D”

Overall: This website is like the old Universal Studio “Main Street” set which looks inviting but once you dip beneath the surface you find doors that don’t open and windows with painted views.  The site is slow to load, has unclear navigation and limited resources.  I was impressed with the building and construction section which allows me to bump up its rating to: “C-“

Salt Lake City Municipal Website

March 15, 2009

Transparency:  There is streaming video of City Council meetings and they are easy to find and they also come as podcasts.  “A”

Feedback:  Its not really encouraged.  You can request a tree trimmed and the form is very simple and easy to use.  There is also a form to report fraud, abuse and waste.  It too is very easy to use.  But that’s pretty limited feedback.  Nothing about abandoned cars, potholes, graffiti, police complaints or the like.  Perhaps this reflects the cleaniness of the city but web reporting would only make it even better. “C+”

Richness of Information:  I looked for building permits and found this section quite easily.  They provide a lot of information about fee schedules, building codes, permits and applications.  They also provide online services to check on permits and applications in areas such as transportation, fire, and engineering.  “A”

Transacting business: Salt Lake City allows you to obtain a business permit online.  They also provide lots of instructional material and options including chatting with someone online.  The forms are easy to understand and use.  They could use a breadcrumb trail so you can see how much you need to do but that’s minor quibble about a very clean and simple process that few other municipalities provide.  “A”

Overall:This is an excellent website for a city any size but particularly for a relatively small city.  Its very easy to navigate with great information, easy-to-use forms and good use of online transactions.  The only downside is the relatively lack of feedback.  “A-“

Minneapolis City Website

March 8, 2009

City of Minneapolis

Transparency:  City council meetings are easy to find from the home page.  There is a link to City Council agendas from a pull-down menu from the “City Council” link.   However, the videos of the meetings aren’t integrated with the agendas.  You find those once you select the City Council meetings when you click on “Watch your government in action!”  “B+”

Feedback:  From the home page there is a link called, “Report issues and complaints” which lists about 15 drop-down choices including abandoned vehicles, cable service, potholes and graffiti.  Unfortunately, the online reporting form has several screen and it isn’t clear how many are involved or how many questions have to be answered from the first screen.  “B”

Richness of information:  From the home page you can click on “Business” and get to a link for “building permits online.”  It tells you what kinds of permits you can get online and how to set up your account etc.  But its not so easy to find out what permits you can’t get online or where to go for a comprehensive list of building permits and related issues.  “C”

Transacting business:   Its clear from the “Business” page where to go to find out information about business licenses.  They don’t allow you to get a business license online but unlike the business permit page, they clearly spell out what you need a license for and what you don’t.  “B+”

Overall: The City of Minneapolis has easy and clear navigation.  I never struggled to find out where to go for information and the site is well-integrated.  They do allow a user to perform some functions online but using those features could be easier. “B+”

Oakland City Website

March 1, 2009

Since I’m moving here today, my report card is hardly academic!

City of Oakland

Transparency:  There is video of City Council meetings.  There is a calendar that lists meeting dates, whether there is an agenda and video.  All good.  The only improvement I would suggest is to under the homepage link, “Council Agendas & Minutes” to place the calendar directly under that that link.  “A-“

Feedback:  Like all the city websites I’ve visited there is no ability to publicly post questions or concerns so other citizens can read them.  However, at the homepage they have a link called, “Report a problem/Ask a Question.”  And it take you to a form with relatively straightforward questions and they tell you that you will receive a call or email within a few days.  Check boxes include: trash, dead animal, graffiti, barking dog, abandoned vehicle and more.  “B+”

Richness of information: The homepage provides directional navigational links rather than subject-oriented links.  There are four choices about residential, business, visiting Oakland and a link to city services.  There is also four drop down menus that include city department, frequently visited pages, online services, finding a document.  I used the drop down for city departments to find the business permits section which was pretty easy.  But the page itself was disappointing.  No sidebars or links to other pages just long paragraphs of text laidout against an annoying background of a visual of the city.  “C”

Transaction business:   It wasn’t easy finding out what you needed to register as a new business in Oakland.  In fact, I found it under the “Finance and Management Agency” and its a PDF form you have to download that includes instructions.  There is absolutely no information about types of business that need to register, fees, how to pay, what you get or anything.  There isn’t even a phone number to call.  I shouldn’t have to download a form to receive basic information.  “D”

Overall:  This site is a mixed bag; containing strong homepage navigation, a good City Council calendar, a decent feedback form with poor internal navigation and extremely weak content and layout.  The website desperately needs a relaunch.  The busy background has to go and the crude looking pages harken back to the early era when pretty graphics and scrolling text were new and exciting.  Earth to Oakland, the world’s moved on.  “C”

Phoenix City Website

February 22, 2009

City of Phoenix

Transparency:  Phoenix has video available but its not connected to the City Council homepage and I didn’t find any evidence of City Council meeting videos.  However, it easy to navigate to the City Council page and the information that is available including agendas, minutes and reports is easily available and well presented. “B-“

Feedback: They do have “e-services” which allow citizens to sign up for reports, pay water bills and get accident reports.  Pretty limited ability to connect electronically with the city. “C”

Richness of Information:  Unlike with some municipal websites, it was relatively easy to find the section dealing with building issues.  Once you click on “Businesses” from the home page, there is a link on the left sidebar for “Development Guide.”  This takes the visitor to a page with lots of links and a list of construction topics.  Oddly, at the top level there is a link for a “sign permit” but the information on building permits is buried among the construction topics.  It would make more since to surface “building permits” and include sign permits among them.  Once you get to the building permit section, the information is clear, useful and seemingly comprehensive.  “B”

Transacting business: It appears that Phoenix doesn’t require all businesses to obtain a license when operating in the city.  It pretty easy to navigate to the business license section from a header on the “Businesses” page called “Business Licenses.”  It take the visitor to a page called, “Liquor and other regulated business licenses.”  I think its strange that they create a page which covers a number of different licenses and group under “Liquor.”  Perhaps the liquor license is the most popular but then why not create a separate link to a liquor license page while calling the page with all the licenses, “Regulated business licenses?”  Phoenix has online information available but you have to go to the city offices to obtain the license.  “B-“

Overall:  The Phoenix city website is well-integrated with a clear, easy layout and decent navigation.  It contains good brochure-type information about city services but doesn’t allow the citizens to conduct much business with the city.  Also, I noticed a confusion in a couple places about how to structure content.  There is a tendency to elevate links to relatively obscure information – like types of permits and licenses and obscure links to more relevant information.  “B-“

Detroit municipal website review

February 15, 2009

City of Detroit

Transparency:  Detroit does make past City Council meetings available on video.  They also make agendas available but I couldn’t find minutes of past meetings.  There are a few navigational challenges starting with the City Council having its own website that’s not integrated with the municipal website.  The video link is a sidebar that requires lots of paging through if you are looking for older videos.  There is a calendar but the videos aren’t linked.  “B-“

Feedback: Online services are limited to submitting and inquiring about police complaints.  The complaint form is fairly straightforward but its unclear what happens after you hit “continue.”  More questions? Or will you be informed about the process once the submission has happened?  “C-“

Richness of Information:  I went looking for building permits and first, I wasn’t sure what department; planning? no.  Then I searched for permits and the search results were worthless.  I couldn’t tell what kind of information I was getting.  Then I searched on city departments and clicked on “Buildings and Safety Engineering Department.”  I still wasn’t sure what I would learn about building permits but they had a link to “Building codes/construction” and bingo, there was lots of great information about permits.  I would like to give Detroit a better grade as they have good information about the permit process but getting a building permit is a basic city function and it should be a lot easier to find this information on their website.  “C-“

Transacting business:  Its much easier to find out about obtaining a business license and the necessary steps involved.  From the link “Business” you are given another link “business licenses” on the sidebar and that page has a wealth of good information about the steps involved and relevant links.  Unfortunately, a business can’t register for a license online however, the page explains where to go and the number to call for that information.  “B+”

Overall:  There is a lot of good information on the Detroit City Website and they are upfront about what’s available and what isn’t.  For example, once I clicked on “Online Services” its clear that they don’t provide too many and not much reporting at all.  However, there is good content in the business and planning sections.  They have loaded lots of reports and useful information for residents and businesses.  The navigation needs an overhaul as does the very poor search function.  Get rid of “mission statements” on department homepages.  People want relevant content and functionality.  If you want to provide a link to the mission statement, that’s fine but don’t make me read it when I come to your department page.  I want help not buzzwords.  “C+”

Our nation’s capital website

February 8, 2009

District of Columbia:

Transparency: Its possible to view video of DC council meetings but it requires navigating through three websites to do so.  Also, agendas and meetings are available at a different website.  “B”

Feedback:  The DC website allows a visitor to register and then access a page called “Service Request Center” which lists about thirty different issues to report.  It includes everything from reporting on graffiti, illegal dumping, dead animals, traffic lights and much more.  The “Service Request Center” homepage has a breadcrumb trail at the top of the page letting you know all the steps you have to take to make a report.  This is the best page like this I’ve seen.  “A”

Richness of Information: This is a problem area.  For example, I wanted to find about building permits for D.C. and I was unable to navigate to the planning department or the equivalent to find this information.  I had to enter “permit” in the search box.  Fortunately, they have excellent search results and I was able to find a discussion of permits but it was located in the “Consumer and Regulatory Affairs” department.   This page is pretty complete and allows the user to download and complete the form online.  Unfortunately, you have to bring the form in person to the department.  Also, its not clear from the “permits” page how the permits fit within the larger context; what department deals with which permits?  What else might someone need besides a permit?  That is unclear.  “C+”

Transacting business:  Finding out how to do business in D.C. is pretty easy.  There is a  link from the home page label “Business” that directs you to a page which lays out all that’s need to apply for a license including an EZ business permit form that can be filled out online.  Unfortunately, the form can’t be submitted electronically.  It has to be brought in person or by mail.  They also have FAQ that explains that they are hoping to have an online process launched sometime in 2009. “B”

Overall: This is a website that has lots of problems but which seems very eager to please and often does.  The problems are mostly navigational; multiple sites, unclear pathways to information and lack of context.  However, the site has a good search function, lots of contents – forms and FAQs to help visitors.  Its “Service Request Center” is a terrific idea well-executed.  Maybe the site is a bit ugly but it’s got a really friendly personality!  “B+”