The most obvious indicator of a government genre Web site is the .gov ending. Most government Web sites are information portals that are designed to provide users with more information. They provide a public service function by linking to resources that visitors may want to use. For example, the Library of Congress Web page, www.loc.gov
, in addition to having links to news and events at the library, has resource links broken down into several categories, including links for librarians or categorical links such as braille and audio materials. There is also a link to legislative information where you can search for bills using key words or sponsors.
Because government Web sites must be accessible to a broad audience, including those with disabilities, they are more likely to have pages that will load quickly on slow browsers and make the site easy to access. When I looked at www.house.gov
, I noticed that there was a button for people to make the text larger and another icon that said the site was speech enabled with a BrowseAloud plug-in. Because I have never had to use a site reader, I'm not sure if the site is easy for someone who is blind to scan, but it seems like they have at least taken people with disabilities into account on this site. There is also a hand with a pen icon next to the "Write your representative" link that I assume is for people who don't know much English.
The Access Washington site, http://access.wa.gov/
, includes a list of "How do I" topics with links to sites that will allow the visitor to take the action they want. This is a great way of helping people who don't use the Internet much to find everything they are looking for in one place. The site also includes information in six foreign languages.
While looking for some state legislature sites I found out that many do not match the .gov characteristic. In fact there does not seem to be a standardized naming convention for state legislatures at all. While the Washington Legislature is www.leg.wa.gov
, the Louisiana Legislature site is www.legis.state.la.us
and the Texas Legislature site is www.capitol.state.tx.us
. These aren't intuitive or consistent at all!
When I got to the county level, the sites were even more diverse. King County, www.metrokc.gov
, had a lot of current press releases and links to local sources of news and transportation tools in addition to public records. The Whatcom County site, www.co.whatcom.wa.us
, didn't look like it had been updated in awhile and included mostly links to county agencies and public records and PDFs of reports such as the budget and comprehensive plan.
Most government sites do seem to be sincerely trying to make information accessible to as many people as possible, though clearly some do a much better job than others. It would help if government Web site naming conventions were a little bit more standardized, though that's not something that is likely to happen anytime soon.