California, Boston Mobile Apps Merit Awards

The Center for Digital Government's Best of the Web state and city award recipients both prioritized providing services through mobile apps.

California and Boston took top honors in the Center for Digital Government's Best of the Web awards program. These annual awards, given by a subsidiary of e.Republic, Inc. (which owns Governing), highlight the top 10 state, county and city portals in the nation that show the highest levels of innovation, functionality and efficiency. The winners for the state and city categories made Web accessibility on mobile devices a priority in 2010.

The top state honor went to California's government portal, Among the site's numerous new features was, a state portal specifically designed for mobile devices.

"You can go on and just look at the applications that have a mobile configuration. Other states have it where you go on, look at a site, and you might or might not be able to look at [the applications] from a mobile device," said California CIO Teri Takai.

"We believe that access to the Internet through mobile devices is going to be one of the fastest growing ways that people are going to access information," Takai continued, "and we want to be ready for that."

She credited the site's win to the employees who redesigned the site. "We just turned everybody loose and provided the tools for them to be successful," she said.

One Best of the Web judge made a similar observation about the value of having so many cooks in the kitchen. "It turns California's biggest challenge (extreme decentralization) into an asset," the judge wrote.

In addition, features numerous new applications, including one that pairs citizens seeking volunteer opportunities with appropriate organizations. Another application directs military veterans returning to civilian life toward potential job opportunities. Another feature gives citizens a close look at the reconstruction of the Oakland Bay Bridge. The California Office of the State Chief Information Officer put together much of the technology used for the various applications and taught individual agencies how to make their own applications with it.

"Very innovative and excellent use of Web 2.0 technologies," another judge wrote. "Content is very well organized resulting in a great user experience. The Smart Search allows you to enter a California ZIP code and find localized service and information."

Boston Alerts Residents of Towings, Cleaning

Boston's website was recognized as the top city site for 2010. One of Boston's new mobile device applications alerts citizens when their cars have been towed, and instructs them on where and how to retrieve them. It also explains the reason for the tow.

"This one really changed the way people deal with being towed," said Bill Oates, Boston's CIO.

In the past, according to Boston Department of IT spokeswoman Sara Walsh, a citizen would first notice his or her car was missing and then wonder whether it was stolen or towed. Then the person would call the police department and then the state police, depending on what road the car was on. Citizens frequently made 10 to 12 phone calls before locating their cars, she said.

Now, alerting citizens immediately of a towing saves them money because Boston's towing lots charge for each 24-hour period the cars reside at them, Walsh explained. "If you were at work and you got towed, you may not notice it until you get home after business hours," she said. "That's already a 24-hour fee. You may not get it until the next day."

Boston's website also features mobile applications for alerting citizens before street cleanings occur so that they have a chance to move their cars before getting towed. Another mobile application enables them to submit service requests, like pothole repairs, and notifies them when requests have been executed. And the site's new Citizens Connect feature aggregates more than 300 citizen transactions in a central spot, for which the city's Web team labeled each service with self-explanatory language, rather than government jargon.

"Good use of Web 2.0 tools," a judge wrote about Boston. "The site offers the ability for users to translate the site in multiple languages and return back to English if necessary."

Top County Site and Award Finalists

Chesterfield County, Va., won the top county spot. County staff believes the site's primary improvement is its clean new layout, said Robert Freeland, manager of digital government for the county. The previous website design was "sort of like the old tacky lights tour," he said.

"The unique presentation layer offers an intuitive user interface," wrote a judge about Chesterfield County. "Good use of graphics, easy consistent navigation."

The top five winners in each category are listed below. For information about the finalists, please visit the Center for Digital Government website.

State Portal Category:
1st Place: California
2nd Place: Arkansas
3rd Place: Alabama
4th Place: Maine
5th Place: Kentucky

City Portal Category:
1st Place: Boston
2nd Place: Louisville Metro Government, Ky.
3rd Place: Fort Collins, Colo.
4th Place: Castle Rock, Colo.
5th Place: Coralville, Iowa

County Portal Category:
1st Place: Chesterfield County, Va.
2nd Place: Pinellas County, Fla.
3rd Place: Oakland County, Mich.
4th Place: Maui County, Hawaii
5th Place: Park County, Colo.

Tina Trenkner is the Deputy Editor for She edits the Technology and Health newsletters.
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