I’ve been preaching a simple concept to businesses for years: the quality of
an organizational Web site is directly reflective of the quality of the
organization it represents. Picture it: Guam, circa 1997. A pivotal time in
the history of the Internet, as Web presences start to explode, in both personal
and commercial fashion. Never one to miss out on a trend (I’m being facetiously
sarcastic), several forward-thinking agencies with the Government of Guam made a
collective decision to get more involved with this new-fangled Internet thing.
So numerous public agencies took the initiative and put a committee together,
consisting of 1-2 creative people or a single MIS staffer, or more daringly
began the search for a contracted Web developer, assigning them the duty of
arduous developing the agency’s formal Web site.
Many of the agencies made the decision to go online as a means of educating the
community about their operations, reducing the paperwork necessary for
commonly-requested documents, and marketing themselves to the world. I’ve been
listening to agency directors talk about putting together sites for the past 4
years, but a positive note is that they’re finally starting to do something
about it. Several agencies have recently put new, impressive Web work online,
and those who have been online have upscaled their pages to start making the
migration from self-glorifying promotional fluff to an actual valuable component
of their operations.
But public sites serve so much more than just the normative contact information
and mission statement of the agency. And while understandably not the most
aesthetic pieces of work in cyberspace, some agencies use data-intensive online
documents archives to make their wares publicly-available, like the Department
of Administration’s site. In the media business, it’s become imperative that we
receive press releases in digital form. This is exponentially more helpful than
the traditional fax, which has to be retyped, or scanned and treated through
optical character recognition (OCR) software, being put back into digital form.
the site for the Governor’s Communications Office, has an archive of MP3 files
of the Governor’s weekly radio address to the people of Guam, and distributes
press releases through its pages. The result is less phone calls to answer, no
need to send faxes to 80 different people in 35 different companies, and more
time to work on other things.
A movement for improvement?
So what’s the problem? Many GovGuam agencies to date have yet to touch or
improve upon them their Web pages since first putting them online...but there is
good news...it’s getting better. Several GovGuam sites have successfully
launched Web sites over the years...only to run into snags along the way. Widely
thought to be the most innovative of GovGuam’s online ventures, the efforts of
the Superior Court of Guam
are vast and remarkable.
The Court has staffers assigned to Web development and maintenance, and posts
information daily on its pages. The most intriguing piece of work from a
development standpoint has undoubtedly been the
Offender Registry, a database-driven Web application using Java Server Pages
technology that features categorical profiles of known sex offenders on island.
However, due to a contradiction in legal precedence, the site had to be taken
offline for several weeks, with the number of offenders listed on the Registry
being reduced from around 90 to only a handful. The Registry was then again
posted online, albeit with a drastic reduction to its core asset – its
underlying information. The Court’s Web site is fairly large, with areas for the
Superior and Supreme courts, the Department of Law, Attorney General’s page, and
others. Overall, it’s a very nicely-done project.
The Guam Telephone
Authority contracted local development firm iCON Corporation to put together
a Web site for the agency to specifically market the agency’s foray into the
broadband Internet market with its DSL service...which unfortunately is a moot
point now with the lawsuit brought against it by IT&E, GuamCell and Kuentos last
year. Go figure.
The Guam Police and Guam Fire departments both have tried to put together Web
pages...only to have them removed from the Internet after years of sitting
dormant, realizing that Web maintenance is a much longer term project than just
a couple days of throwing some text, graphics, and links together. As of this
time, they still have yet to develop a formal online presence.
Several other public agencies have made great strides of late in assigning
full-time staffers to design, implement, and maintain medium-sized Web sites,
including the Governor’s Office, the Guam Environmental Protection Agency, and
the aforementioned Superior Court.
Getting back to our roots
Some of the earliest examples of GovGuam Web work really took off...when HTML
1.0 was the in-thing. In 1996, www.gov.gu was
Guam’s “official” Web site, but has yet to make any real significant changes to
its original design. The Guam Memorial Hospital has made only minor changes to
its site, as recently as September of 2000, but largely still caries the same
dated, static information. The Guam Visitor’s Bureau had arguably what was the
prettiest Guam Web site around in ‘98, but has done next to nothing with it
since. And don’t even get me started on the fact that the Department of Mental
Heath has an AngelFire.com URL...
However, some sites constantly are under more scrutiny than others, by virtue of
their nature. Such is the case with the University of Guam, whose site has yet
to make any major changes or really take advantage of the true benefits of
online publishing. Many students told me that they wished there was more of a
proactive effort in making the pages more uniform in nature, making the
information more timely and relevant, updating it more frequently, and having
more online applications that they could use. I’m pleased to know that more
intuitive applications on the site (Web-based student e-mail, course catalogs,
etc.) have accentuated the site and made it more of a useful tool. It also goes
without saying that a more modernized site would serve UOG’s effort to recruit
more students and professors. And as an alumni (rah-rah, Class of ’96!), I would
hope that the University would take more initiative to “build our destiny” and
keep up with this an ongoing project, constantly expanding, continually adding
New kids on the online block
By comparison, more Web work is popping up from GovGuam entities these days,
more frequently than in years past. Perhaps the interaction with some of Guam’s
larger businesses who use the Internet religiously has become an influence to
them, allowing them to see the true benefits beyond the marketability of a page,
urging them to follow suit. Perhaps they’re doing it due to budget cutbacks, or
perhaps its just because they’re tired of repeating over the phone what can
easily be accessed off of the Web. The Office of the Public Auditor recently
launched a site which had archived audits and other interesting tidbits, and the
Guam Juvenile Drug Court recently undertook a project to generate interest in
the new court.
And other sites which have sat dormant in the recesses of the World Wide Web are
now the subject of renovation projects, such as the Guam International Airport.
Either way, it’s progress...and that’s what I like.
So where are we now?
And don’t think I’m just hazing GovGuam, because this trend is consistent in
governments in the U.S. mainland. Both at the state and federal levels, Web
technology is a practice whose output is the recipient of much criticism. And
this is ironic, in that government institutions normally have access to any
amount of resources they need, via the infamous and payment-elusive Purchase
Order (for example, I have yet to collect commissions from GovGuam sales I made
several years ago from my days at ComputerLand).
I’m glad and proud that Guam’s local government has taken the initiative to get
more up-to-date with its use of Web technology, and has really started to
leverage the Web in their operations. Lord knows they have enough problems to
worry about otherwise.
Let’s hope more agencies pick up the beat and get rolling on developing their
own Web sites, for the benefit of the island.
I feel that these are the best examples of informative, aesthetically-pleasing,
From a developer's point of view, I like these as the best examples of
informative, aesthetically-pleasing, useful public sites:
GovGuam Retirement Fund
| Guam Environmental Protection Agency
| Office of the Public Auditor