Survey of the week, municipal division

Do you dislike the City of Austin Web site? Maybe my personal acquaintanceship is statistically unusual in that everybody I know heartily detests it. It’ll be possible to respond to a questionnaire on the subject until January 4, but what better way is there to spend those idle moments on a Friday afternoon? There are ample opportunities to provide free-form responses, opportunities to answer those questions that weren’t asked. Here are some aspects of the City site that I dislike or that could be improved. Why require registration of any kind at any site? Isn’t a simple disclaimer that the information there provided may not be entirely accurate or up to date sufficient? Why are so many pages set up to accommodate Austinites possessing large monitors and broadband connections? It’s wonderful that so much GIS information is available, but that doesn’t help those using dial-up connections, and they are myriad. Why is it easier to use Google to find something on the City’s site than it is to use the City’s internal search-engine? Why is there no complete and searchable telephone directory, ideally frequently updated and showing department, physical location, direct telephone number, and title for every employee? State government has made most of this information available for a long time. What’s the big secret? Why is that finding out who is a person’s district police representive resembles going on a quest for the Holy Grail? This is an oft-sought bit of information and finding it should be easy and quick for everyone.

Do I like anything? Yes; availability of streaming video of public meetings is wonderful and so is the fact that this material is, whenever possible, scheduled for replay at times more convenient for those unable to attend the events in the first place, whether in person or virtually. I also like the quick transcripts prepared for closed-caption purposes. As more and more people acquire access to information in electronic form, that information should be ever more copious and easy to find. We all know that reaching a municipal employee by telephone is all but impossible and when it does happen it’s usually only after an extended effort.

The press release is an exercise in something, although I’m not sure exactly what (care is taken to include the phrase “a new era in open government”). This redesign, supposedly in aid of furnishing more information more accurately and in a more timely fashion, was launched in the wake of the failure of the proposed “clean government” charter amendment in May 2006. How many hours and how many brainstormers did it take to come up with “Austin GO,” standing for “Austin Government Online” and the tagline “a new era of open government”?

Fellow Metblogger Tim Trentham alerted us all about this survey. I really do encourage people to answer the questions asked, along with those that should have been asked. At the end of the survey is an opportunity to provide personal information if you’re willing to participate in other aspects of the redesign process, apparently focus groups. Among the questions asked was this one: “What gender group do you identify with?” That’s our Austin. Anyhow, although the questions tend more toward aspects of design, rather than expanded content, as a great American once said, “One never knows, do one?”

2 Comments so far

  1. Mark Cathcart (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

    The question about google and search engines is an easy one, given the amount of time and effort and money, keywords, advertising, page ranking etc. that google apply, I would be concerned about the City’s spending if their website search was better than googles.

    Of course, the same is true of Microsoft Search and Yahoo. Of course in this case it looks like a mute point, since the city appears to be using google, isn’t it?

  2. Rantor (unregistered) on November 9th, 2007 @ 6:45 pm

    It does now appear to be using Google, as I just found out by using “Blunn Creek” as a search term. Up until recently, it was using something else altogether, although I couldn’t now say what it was. (It used some sort of “relevancy” scale that involved filling in a certain number of figures such as stars or dots or the like.) On almost any search under the old system, the first thing that turned up was a closed-caption transcript, not an internal page, which seems odd. Thank you very much for calling this to my attention. Have you completed the survey? What do you think of it? And what were your suggestions for improvement of the City’s Web presence if you did?

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