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GOVERNMENT INTERNET FRUSTRATIONS

We get a great deal of information from the Internet for our work, and there’s little question that the easy access to tons of reports, studies, surveys, legislation, audits, budgets, meeting minutes, essays, graphs, etc., has revolutionized research and reporting on all fronts, not just state and local government.

 

But, despite the benefits that online information can bring to researchers, reporters, academics and practitioners, there are a multitude of flaws in this seemingly endless source of facts, figures and history.

 

For example, we’re repeatedly frustrated by the absence of dates on website pages. For example, the website for the State of Texas offers a seemingly useful directory of government services, including  information about licensing, vital records and business resources. A terrific idea, but the website page has no date attached, and so we can’t figure out a way for residents to know if the information to which the webpage links is up to date.

 

Then there are scholarly reports that pop up when searching for information about a topic. Readers are often in the dark about the timing of these papers which leaves them unable to tell whether the information is current or not.


 One more problem on the dating scene: Legislative websites should be a good way to keep track of current legislation in the states. But we repeatedly run across sites that aren’t nearly up to date. For example, in early June, the office of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice issued a release proclaiming that “Gov. Justice signs legislation providing more than $80 million for West Virginia’s college students and higher education institutions.”


That’s pretty big news in West Virginia, but as of mid-June, the legislative site hasn’t taken note. In fact, the most recent legislation listed there dates back to March. We understand, theoretically and from personal experience, that it can be very time-consuming keeping websites up to date. But if states like West Virginia are tracking legislation on their legislative sites, it doesn’t feel like it should be too much trouble keeping them up to date – or at least close.


Yet one more frustration with websites is that the links they provide are frequently out of service. The Pew Research Center recently issued a report that found that “Overall, 21% of all the government webpages we examined contained at least one broken link. Across every level of government we looked at, there were broken links on at least 14% of pages; city government pages had the highest rates of broken links.”

Keeping the links on a website entirely up to date is a hugely daunting task. In fact, we may well be in a glass house throwing stones in this case, as we’re confident that a close perusal of our own site has links that have long since expired. Sorry about that.


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