New Council Web Site Gets Mixed Reviews
December 12th, 2007

Last week, the City Council revealed its new Web site after months of delay. While most agree that it is a step in the right direction, the site has received mixed reviews from people dealing with the intersection of technology and government.

The council’s new site is meant to be more stable than the old site, which was notorious for crashing. It offers more details on committee hearings, including direct links and briefings. An RSS subscription is now available for committee calendars, and there are plans to add RSS features throughout the site in the future. Council members also have the ability to update their own pages as they see fit and can add such features as voting records, calendars and press releases if they choose. The council’s communications office is training staffers and even council members on how to do so.

Cathilea Robinett, the executive director of the Center for Digital Government, said the new web site is very sophisticated for a council site. “This is an excellent use of technology with several innovative features. Congratulations to the New York City Council for a citizen-centric and citizen-friendly site.” The center publishes a yearly survey ranking American cities on their use of technology to reach out to constituents. (New York City has not been in the top 10 large cities since 2002, when it ranked fourth.)

Councilmember Gale Brewer, chairwoman of the Technology in Government Committee, was happy about the new site as well. She says that it is now much easier to find legislation and finds the additional information available for committee hearings useful. But her enthusiasm was tempered by what the site does not have.

Brewer would like to see testimony uploaded to the site and wants those testifying to include electronic copies of their written testimony to the council. (She didn’t go as far as suggesting legislation on this point, however. “I don’t want it to be mandated for the elderly woman that comes to testify,” she said.) The council member also sees a need for webcasts from City Hall on the site.

But the harshest view of the new site comes from Andrew Rasiej, who ran for public advocate in 2005 and co-founded TechPresident. “It looks like the council has finally dragged itself into 1999,” he said.

He said that the new site doesn’t fulfill the the interactive promise of the Internet. “Why not allow people to comment on legislation rather than just read about it? Why not have two-week long hearings through the Web,” where people discuss an issue online like an open blog? He also pointed to a suggestion from his 2005 campaign to map out quality-of-life issues on Google maps, with information provided by citizens.

(In a response to The People’s 311, a citizen attempt to create such a map, an analyst from the city’s Department of Information Technology said, “We are currently working on a project that will allow constituents to send text and picture messages to the call center. Currently, the estimate for the basic features of this project are due to be introduced to the public in early 2008.”)

Rasiej, however, commend the council site as “a good stepping stone” for larger achievements.

The 2007 Digital Cities Survey ranked Aurora, Colo. and Virginia Beach, Va as first and second. Washington D.C. took ninth. Rasiej pointed to TheyWorkForYou.com, a British site, and the personal Web site of Deval Patrick, the current Massachusetts governor, as innovative government Web sites.

By on December 12, 2007, 10:07 am
In category: nextNY,Tech | 3 Comments »

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3 Responses to “New Council Web Site Gets Mixed Reviews”

  1. Gotham Gazette - The Wonkster » Blog Archive » Council Member’s Web Pages Underutilized Says:
    February 15th, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    […] the City Council released its new Web site last December, one of the features it offered was the ability of council members […]

  2. Gotham Gazette - The Wonkster » Blog Archive » Watch Your Government at Work in Your Boxers Says:
    October 31st, 2008 at 4:10 pm

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