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 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: