Most states currently do not provide constituent service blogs for their legislators. One reason is the fear that blogs can be misused. Legislative staff make every effort to offer non-partisan services and information and fear that blogs could be used as state sponsored tools for campaigning.
Most U.S. Representatives and Senators have both official governmental websites and private sites for operating campaigns. The question is, could state governments promote a similar dual model of separate sites/weblogs for constituent services and campaigning?
Elected officials and those running for office have seen how RSS news syndiction can help them spread their message. Howard Dean rose out of obscurity last year using a combination of weblogging and local web meetups to become his party's front runner in the presidential race. Dean and others learned that this technology can even the playing field and allow someone to rapidly organize a grass roots campaign. RSS syndication can help create a dynamic website and produce both email and online newsletters in the same process. With legislative staffs slow to offer the service, there is an inviting market niche for the private sector.
Recognizing this golden opportunity, LaVarr Web, Publisher of UtahPolicy.com today issued an "Invitation to Blog" to elected officials and party leaders wishing to communicate directly to citizens. Mr. Webb writes:
We would like to invite you to become a blogger. UtahPolicy.com is creating the Utah Policymaker Blog and we hope you will be part of it. It is an opportunity for you, as a Utah policymaker, to publish your opinions, thoughts and ideas to a wide audience of opinion leaders. It is an opportunity to participate in an exciting new high-tech communications medium that is becoming a powerful tool in politics, business and in every walk of life.
It's fun and exciting to be a blogger. You are probably aware of how bloggers are credited for toppling the powerful Dan Rather and CBS News. The phenomenon of blogging is growing rapidly and as a leader in Utah you ought to become familiar with this new method of communicating and use it to your advantage. In effect, Utah policymakers will have their own electronic publication in which to communicate with the public.
Some reasons UtahPolicy.com offers as to why elected officials ought to consider blogging include:
Utah policymakers interested in the offer should send an e-mail expressing their interest to
This is an example of the union of business and government to promote democracy and inform the citizenry using RSS news syndication. We wish them well in their efforts!
The National Hurricane Center, a service of the National Weather Service, now provides RSS feeds with links to forecasts and maps. They currently offer three feeds, one in English and one in Spanish for Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico tropical cyclones, and one in English for Eastern Pacific tropical cyclones.
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov:
Moreover Technologies, the premier provider of aggregated online current awareness and business information, today announced that Pluck Corp., a software company dedicated to making it easier to find and manage Internet information, will integrate several of Moreover's RSS (Rich Site Summary) news solutions within Pluck's free Internet Explorer browser companion application. This will provide users with a more convenient and comprehensive view into breaking online news. These new capabilities include...
-- Aggregated RSS news feeds. As opposed to RSS feeds with content from a single site, Moreover feeds deliver a more complete view into breaking news as they are based on topic-specific categories composed of articles aggregated from thousands of the most relevant and reliable online sources.
-- A custom RSS feed builder will enable Pluck users to create and save RSS news feeds that are personalized to their specific news requirements.
-- And perhaps most importantly, the News Search and Perch alerts. Perches or "persistent searches" are saved searches that continuously execute against Google, eBay, Amazon or the 5,500 new sources indexed by the Moreover News engine. Unlike conventional web searches, perches show only what's new since you last reviewed it. Options for perches change based on the source. An Amazon perch, for example, lets you limit by store category, price, sales rank, and customer reviews.
Moreover powered searches return far more relevant results because searches are run across the headline and complete article content, not just the headlines. Moreover Technologies Connected Intelligence(TM) solutions harvest news from thousands of the most reliable online sources, including premium international and regional publications, corporate and government press pages, Weblogs and discussion boards. Content is intelligently categorized, fortified with descriptive metadata, ranked for quality by an experienced editorial staff and then delivered for use in custom applications, Websites, corporate intranets and enterprise portals.
While the Pluck feed update default is set to update every three hours, users can update as frequently as every 15 minutes. This may be a concern to content providers worried about bandwidth consumption. Pluck offers some nice touches such as the integration with CompleteRSS, an aggregator for finding RSS feeds, and the abilities to both import existing OPML feed subscriptions and to export OPML files for sharing with others.
Have you longed for custom Moreover feeds? There are perhaps other ways to do this, but none are easier than using the CompleteRSS "Create a Custom News Feed" tool. Just select the search terms you want to search for in the complete Moreover stories or headlines and you have a custom news alert feed. You can select whether ALL the terms need to appear or ANY of the terms need to be found or whether the EXACT phrase that you type in needs to be found. Just as you can specify what words are required to appear, you can specify words that must not appear. If your search for "dolphins" , the team, also returns results for the sea mammal, you can either exclude terms, or you can refine the search by limiting the search to a category such as "sport." Investors and those monitoring companies, can limit searches by stock ticker symbols. For more relevant but less comprehensive result sets, you can limit the search to just the headline, and for better quality you can eliminate blogs by just searching "top sources" such as The New York Times and BBC.
Pluck is currently limited to installation with the Windows version of Internet Explorer, version 6.0 or higher, and is limited to the Windows XP and Windows 2000 (Home or Professional) platforms. Windows 95/98/ME/NT & Mac O/S are not supported at this time.
Download Pluck Beta 0.9.5: http://www.pluck.com/download.aspx
Read the press release: "Pluck Selects Moreover Technologies for Aggregated RSS News Solutions" (September 21, 2004)
Larimer County Colorado has offered an e-mail subscription service of web updates to the county's web site, The Virtual Courthouse, since 1998. This service has grown to 22 separate mailings including job openings, news releases, emergency information, road closures, bids & proposals, various board agendas, and more. Recently this service has been expanded to include an RSS feed of all subscriptions for those who prefer to use a newsreader instead of receiving e-mail. Information on this service can be found at www.larimer.org/subscriptions.cfm, and the RSS feed is www.larimer.org/feed.xml.
Missouri Governor Bob Holden this week awarded a Governor's Award for Quality and Productivity to the State Portal Newsfeed Development Team. This is an annual award that recognizes excellence in service, efficiency, and innovation. It went to employees from 17 different state agencies who developed a system for state agencies to share the state's news feed portal at little or no cost to the agency. This system currently publishes the news from 18 government agencies, offices and organizations at the top of each hour on the state homepage, in addition to providing continuous newsfeed to web sites in the public sector.
The Digital Media Developers group, which consists mostly of web developers from various state agencies, developed this project entirely within state government. Prior to the current headline display, only the governor's news was posted. The Office of Information Technology asked the keepers of the state web site if something could be done about including more agencies in the headlines, and they, in turn, asked the DMD for help.
The first step was to get a few agencies to develop newsfeeds. Our Conservation Department had a newsfeed for years, but the rest of us were slow to realize the benefits of having one. As Web Developer in the Department of Insurance, I began one as an offshoot of automating my agency's news releases. Then I asked a few other agencies to build one. We had a demo of the newsfeeds on the DMD web site (http://www.oa.mo.gov/dmd/), which encouraged other agencies to get on board.
Once we had a handful of agencies on board, our Lottery Commission build an aggregator, which goes out and searches the newsfeeds every hour. If there is a new item, it is added to a database. I built a small perl script that takes the most recent news items, weights them by age, and displays them on the state home page.
We have agencies building their newsfeeds with perl, Java, .NET, .asp, Access and by hand. Most of them, of course, have built theirs by pulling information from a database, but there are a few that, for now, are still hand-coding.
The nice thing about the project, from the DMD point of view, is that participation is entirely voluntary, it is highly decentralized (as long as an agency meets the RSS 2.0 standard, we don't care what they use to build the feed), and the project was done entirely by volunteers taking a little time from their regular duties to build portions of the project; no additional state money was allocated for the project.
The DMD also develps the state's web standards (which are currently being updated), sponsors web-related courses, and acts as a helpdesk for the state's web developers.
I would agree with RSS in Government's assessment on using a news reader instead of relying on the HTML-based pages. For the agency news I am really interested in, I pull their feed in on a reader. But for the majority of Missouri constituents, providing the headlines on the state home page is a value-added service.
See: "Show Me State of Missouri News" (RSS in Government, September 1, 2004)
The National Association of Legislative Information Technology (NALIT) will be sharing "Web Tips, Tricks and Techniques" for building Legislative RSS feeds at their 2004 Professional Development Seminar in beautiful Burlington, Vermont, September 8-11, 2004. Panelists include key IT players from Virginia, Nevada, and Utah. Several states are now using RSS to provide users with notices of new Web content or to distribute newsletters. At least two states are now generating legislative feeds directly from databases. This article previews some of what they'll be showing from the states of Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island.
NALIT is the IT working group of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The recent annual meeting, July 19-23, 2004 in Salt Lake City, was hosted locally by Mark Allred and his IT staff from the Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel. Marty Stephens , Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives and President of the National Conference of State Legislatures, presided. Linda Pittsford, Manager of the Texas Legislative Council Computer Center, gave a presentation introducing "Leveraging RSS Technology" for searching news.
This time around panelists Sharon Crouch Steidel, Director of Information Systems, House of Delegates, Virginia and Andy Harvey, Webmaster and Internet Services Administrator of the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau, will examine how to make news available via syndication, which RSS format to choose, and other tips and potential uses for RSS by legislatures.
Glen Johnson, Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, will then demonstrate how the Utah Legislature is using RSS. Glen has created a legislative news feed and Brooke Anderson, a programmer with the Legislative IT Staff, has tied into the Legislature's SQL database to provide RSS feeds for bill tracking and committee calendaring.
The bill tracking facility now creates custom feeds for the bills of interest to the user. The feeds provides links to the bill text, sponsor, bill status, floor calendars, and relevant committee agendas and minutes.
The legislative committee watch list provides a check list allowing users to pick and choose committees of interest. For example, if you wanted to keep informed about interim committees in between legislative sessions, you could select just those, and it creates a custom feed linked to by the orange xml icon at the bottom of the page . The feed that you receive provides up-to-date links to agendas, minutes, and committee documents.
RSS innovations from other states that will be showcased at the NALIT seminar include:
The Texas Legislative Counsel has created RSS feeds for upcoming legislative calendars, committee meetings, schedules, and feeds for bill text, fiscal notes and analysis,
The State of Missouri has created a number of departmental RSS news feeds. The most recent headlines of most feeds, but not all, are aggregated to a centralized agency news portal web page. Every hour the State Webmaster scours feeds on her agency servers to update this portal.
The portal page has links to agency "news archives," such as that for the Department of Agriculture, which generally provide better headline access to their own news releases. While a centralized news portal is a good idea, I can think of two reasons why you might want to read the feeds with your own client aggregator: the HTML parsed news pages load slowly and the lottery feed (their most active for some reason) may be blocked by your institutional Web filter.
The state has prepared a standard for constructing RSS 2.0 feeds, and Kevin Lanahan at the Department of Insurance has created a friendly "Basic Guide to Creating an RSS News Feed" which hand-coders of feeds will find informative.
The Missouri government feeds are: