State CIO J. Clark Kelso wants to make government more accessible to the citizens of California. In an interview with Information Week's Eric Chabrow, (Nov 22, 2004), Kelso announced, "We need to start changing the inefficeinent way we provide services." The state spends between $2 billion and $4 billion annually on IT.
Kelso is the author of the "California State Information Technology Strategic Plan" (PDF), a 5-year plan presented this month to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Plan follows a more lengthy report issued in August by the California Performance Review Commission. The Commision was charged by Gov. Schwarzenegger with figuring out how to make state government work better and cheaper. Among the ideas in the panel's $32 billion cost-cutting recommendations: favoring open-source software over proprietary alternatives for new IT purchases.
The report, titled Government for the People for a Change, is a 4-volume study with recommendations including recommendations to "Explore Open Source Alternatives." "The state should more extensively consider use of open source software," it recommends, "which can in many cases provide the same functionality as closed source software at a much lower total cost of ownership."
The CIO's most recent plan to bring efficiency to California Information Technology promotes six strategic goals including three that could be facilitated by open source RSS syndication:
Unfortunately, there is no mention of RSS news feeds or xml syndication anywhere in the plan.
California prides itself as the world's fifth largest economy, but in the world of providing syndicated news and services, it lags behind Rhode Island and Delaware. Social Commentator Jamais Cascio writing in WorldChanging wryly observes, "Some states that you'd think would be technologially on the ball (California, for example) have few if any feeds, while other locations are swimming in them."
The State of Virginia was recently recognized by the Center for Digital Government with a third place ranking in the Best of the Web and Digital Government Achievement Awards. The recognition came largely for Virginia's new syndication and alert services.
In recognizing the honor Governor Mark Warner said, "Our real-time online live help customer service continues to set the pace for the nation, and the portal's desktop alerts via live RSS feeds ensure that Virginia.gov users always have access to the most current information."
The VIPNet portal and its RSS feeds are managed by the Virginia Information Providers Network. There are currently at least 34 feeds. Virginia uses RSS feeds not only for alerts, but also for a monitoring service that keeps citizens informed of new resources and services added to the portal.
In addition to providing standard fare such as feeds for press releases, emergency notifications, and what's new, Virginia.gov creates feeds for lists of topical services and resources. You can subscribe to forms, licenses and permits, information about visiting Virginia, business resources, and many other topics.
Any government or agency that creates Yahoo-style directory access to resources could use RSS feeds in the way that Virginia does. A neat side-benefit of streaming links in RSS is that it offers a built-in web--page monitoring service. Citizens using a news aggregator can subscribe to the page and be automatically notified when you've added new resources to the page. Neat!
The next step would be to create a search of the directory and have that search create RSS feeds based on keyword queries. In way of example, take a look at the xmlhub Open Directory Search - Custom RSS Feed Generator which searches the DMOZ Open Directory and creates keyword query feeds.
Not everyone lives in a state that has ready made feeds of this kind. If you find a resource page of interest thas has not yet been syndicated, converted them to RSS feeds, you can try scraping pages of interest using a tool like xmlhub's RSSgenr8: HTML to RSS Converter.
Here's a list of some of the State of Virginia RSS feeds that you can subscribe to:
The State of Delaware has two new RSS newsfeeds featured by links right off the state's homepage. As lead of the team that developed the feeds, I'm pleased to report this as a joint effort of our office, the Government Information Center (GIC) and the Register of Regulations.
The first feed, Delaware.gov - Statewide News is a general collection of news and press releases from across state agencies.
The Current Monthly Register is the newsfeed equivalent of the The Delaware Register of Regulations, a monthly publication of all proposed regulatory changes, general notices, and final regulations from our partners in the Legislature.
The Government Information Center is the office that manages the state portal, Delaware.gov. The mission of the GIC is to develop and deliver accurate and complete governmental information online. The office works with state agencies, legislators, the public and others to improve the delivery of government services and information through Delaware.gov and other channels.
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:
Almost every Web site has a what's new section or page. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio shows us that RSS syndication is a great way to allow your customers to monitor what's new on your agency's website.
Jeffrey S. McNaughton, PUCO Webmaster, reports that the Commission is now offering two new RSS feeds.
Recent PUCO News Releases:
What's New On the PUCO Web Site:
We heard from Jason Blum at the Senate that there are Senators such as our own Bob Bennett (R-Utah) who are interested in streaming local news and alerts to their sites. In addition to weather alerts from the National Weather Service another option is from OpenWeather, a private effort to create raw xml and RSS 1.0 weather feeds for the capitol airports of all 50 states and the province of Ontario. Another very exciting service is RSSWeather. Enter a USA city, Canadian city, or international country, and it generates a RSS 2.0 feed and, in some cases, OPML feed that you can subscribe to. Because data comes from HAMWeather, there are feeds for remote locations and small air fields in addition to forecasts reports from the large airports.
What about other kinds of alerts? Wouldn't it be nice to pursue Bill French's vision to create "an emergency notification system that leverages the power of a simple RSS feed." RSS feeds can be deliverd to the simplest of handheld devices. What mountain snowmobiler wouldn't like to receive up-to-date avalanche conditions? What sailor wouldn't want the latest gale warnings?
Dave Fletcher has noted that the federal Media Security and Reliability Council is advising that government coordinate the development of a Media Common Alert Protocol designed to deliver emergency messages via digital networks.
Am I missing something, or is this not already built into the capabilities of RSS?
Some are apparently already doing this very thing. The Earthquake Hazards Program (EHP) of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has responded with a series of feeds for Earthquake Hazards syndicating alerts for quakes greater than magnitude 2.5. and those greater than 5 throughout the world.
The State of California has an Emergency Digital Information Service (EDIS) to deliver official information about emergencies and disasters to the public and the news media in the state. Their bulletins are published to the web. EDIS doesn't syndicate this themselves so Jason Fesler at GIGO.com has created a RSS EDIS Bulletins feed. Anyone can subscribe to this feed or parse it to their site as Jason has done at his GIGO site. If you don't know which parsing technology to use, I keep a public gigantic list of parsing tools, mostly free or open source, complete with examples of their use and links to their documentation.
Maybe some independent or government agency can take this on as a project to identify already existing government alert sites like EDIS that are not self-syndicating, scrape them into RSS feeds like Jason has done, and then package them into OPMLs to make them available to our Senators and media. Any takers?
Links to Homeland Security Email Mailing Lists (non-RSS):
The Wisconsin Historical Society reports to Jenny Levine at the Shifted Librarian that they now offer three new Movable Type created RSS feeds. Web Development Coordinator James Ellis says these are the first such feeds to come from a public institution in the great State of Wisconsin. "I hope other state agencies will do this," Ellis said. "Maybe someday wisconsin.gov will have one big Wisconsin news page?one stop for what?s going on in the state." The feeds are created using Six Apart's Movable Type blogging software.
Arkansas has joined the growing number of states syndicating agency produced headlines for its citizenry using RSS. The Arkansas Government eNewsRoom is a news portal featuring a RSS 0.91 feed that indexes news releases in PDF format.
News can be filtered by categories such as "business" and "natural resources" and then sorted by either by creating agency or date. The most recent headlines are also parsed to the Arkansas.gov homepage (formerly AccessArkansas). Because the service appears to be limited to formal press releases and may not yet have full agency participation, the news is not yet comprehensive nor current. Only three stories were published in the past month and all were from a single agency.
The eNewsroom is a service produced for the state by The Information Network of Arkansas (INA). Arkansas participates, as does Utah, in the National Information Consortium (NIC) managed network of state and local government portals.
MIT, Harvard, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announce the formation of a loose association of interested U.S. state and local governments to promote sharing of software under open source licenses, including the GPL or Mozilla licenses.
An initial working meeting of the Public Sector Open Source Project will be held on December 9th at MIT and Harvard to form an association. They would like to have as many governments as possible represented and participating. Anyone with inquiries is invited to contact Dan Greenwood, Director of the MIT E-Commerce Architecture Program, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more: Press Release
While the Utah Administrative Office of the Courts has provided a mailing list to new Appellate decisions for quite a few months, we're still hoping to soon see syndicated decisions.
Rory Perry of the West Virginia Office of the Clerk used the Radio Userland weblogging tool to be the first to syndicate court opinions and in so doing build one of the very first practical applications using RSS in government. Rory offers the following feeds from the West Virgina Supreme Court:
His channels are nicely integrated into the court's website and he uses Radio's activeRenderer to create an expandable index to Term Opinion Summaries. You can also join his 3,000 subscribers who receive his RSS created opinion summaries by email. Courts interested in exploring the seemingly endless possibilities of RSS might want to start with Rory's "unrefined suggestions" that he posted to his personal weblog in February.
I've seen other court opinions surfacing informally in weblogs. Steven R. Minor, for example, reports summaries of decisions from the Virgian Court of Appeals in his SW Virginia Law Blog.
Taking up the challenge, Elmer's Weblog and others reported yesterday a posting to the Teknoids mailing list that Thomas R. Bruce, Co-Director of the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School has begun syndicating recent U.S. Supreme Court Opinions. These two channels, too, are created using Radio Userland and both are updated within minutes of decisions being handed down by the court:
The Fifth Annual State GILS Conference, hosted this year by the State of Illinois, was a great success. U.S. states have been meeting ad hoc for the past five years to develop Government Information Locator Services to promote access to state and local government produced information. We'll report later in more detail on the new initiatives in digital preservation, metadata repositories, Z39.50 resource discovery, web publication archiving, and a RSS-based platform for continuing our GILS collaborative efforts. The conference is still in session today.
During the past four years, Utah and about half the other states have cooperatively developed State Government Information Locater Services. Within this group of states, about eight, with the assistance of the State of Washington State Library, have developed search engines using Microsoft Site Server technology. I noticed today that Rhode Island has joined Oregon, Utah, and New Mexico in having their state portal powered by their State Library's Find-It search. Rhode Island, in fact, pioneered the use of MS Find-It. It was their Secretary of State's Office and State Library that sponsored the original Find-It programming that was later shared with us and other states. This spirit of cooperative open source development continues.
Rhode Island, under Jim Willis, their Director of eGovernment for the Secretary of State, has recently won several awards for outstanding open source egovernment innovations. It's great to see how their PHP/mySQL CMS is used to power their press releases. Like Rhode Island, Utah is a NIC state, and local affliate, Utah Interactive, Inc., is developing open source RSS technologies for press releases.
Utah also has agencies experimenting with the Zope application server and Plone CMS. They have been greatly impressed with Texas Governor Rick Perry's application of Zope/Plone at his website.
Former Utah CIO, Phil Windley, has been promoting the use of Open Source this week at the Washington, DC eGovOS conference and his presentation and running commentary at his website is highly recommended.
Those monitoring U.S. eGovernment progress and news should take a look at Multimedia Victoria, the Victorian Government's Repository of eGovernment Resources. Of particular note is its archives of State Government websites and egovernment reports. To find such a great resource down under doesn't surprise me knowing how advanced the governments of Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania are in global information architecture.
With the proliferation of government web portals and pages, it is becoming ever more necessary for agencies to reach their customers by email. You can no longer even expect your most devoted readers to visit your web sites on a regular basis. One of my web hosters made a major service change several months ago but never notified their customers by email. The notice was only on their website, and then in a place only accessible by password. When I suggested yesterday to their sales rep that email notices were preferable and that the company could provide them at no additional cost, she was incredulous.
Even when governments and businesses do market news and services by email, they're usually using mailing lists and e-newsletters. I subscribe, for example, to newsletters about Utah travel and events, and I get email news of newly posted court opinions and administrative rules. I bet that in every state there are hundreds of these kinds of lists. The problem is that the public cannot easily learn of their existence and they are relatively time intensive for us to prepare and distribute.
Using RSS, customers can more easily find and subscribe to our syndicated news, and we can eliminate all the extra processes needed to prepare information or repackage it for email delivery. As one who has managed 30 simultaneous mailing lists, I know. In a few days from now, I'd like to begin sharing with you some methods of using RSS technologies to automate the process of email news publishing. If you have a method that works for you, please write me, Ray Matthews, and let's share it.
The State of Utah is reviewing options for creating, aggregating, and publishing news from state agencies. The decision of which technology to use to create RSS feeds can be made independent to the decision regarding a technology for aggregating and publishing (parsing) the feeds. I'll address the later first and write about the creation/CMS end tomorrow. There seems to me to be at least four models for aggregating and publishing RSS headlines. This lengthy article describes these four models with examples of each.....
Publishing Aggregated News on a Single Topic from Multiple Sources
The American Homeowners Resource Center is a great example of a content managed site that provides resources and collaborative tools for getting things done. It has a News page that presents a newspaper-like presentation of headlines linked to full stories. It also streams a channel of "Breaking News" in a side-column on every page. Its news is limited to the topic of the site and appears to be selected and submitted manually and then reviewed for inclusion by the site's editors. The success of this depends to a great degree on the care given to selecting or filtering headlines for inclusion. Moreover is one such successful aggregator that has for several years created hundreds topical feeds aggregated from numerous business and news sources.
Aggregating and Presenting News in Multiple Channels
The next step beyond presenting a single feed is presenting multiple channels, usually in a predefined number of headlines per channel. The Novell Portal Server provides this kind of RSS support, allowing the user to select a number channels to display. This is usually effective only for monitoring a small set of channels that are usually related in some way.
Dave Winer's Weblogs at Harvard is an example of this kind of aggregation using the Radio Userland News Aggregator. Conceivably, a government agency could present a few feeds of particular interest to their visitors. Add a lot of feeds, though, and you can see from this example how this kind of aggregation can easily get out of control. I don't think this approach will go anywhere considering the sophistication now built into news readers such as NetNewsWire, NewsMonster, and NewZCrawler.
Aggregating and Filtering News in Pre-selected Categories and Channels
I have two examples to illustrate this. The first is Network World Fusion.
This site, created by
The Daily News view presents all of the day's "top" Enterprise Network News aggregated from their dozen or so feeds. The front page has headlines, links, and descriptions for the first five headlines with a link to the full article, where following the article, they stream the "breaking news" for the category. The top page then flows just the headlines for 20 or so more articles of lesser note. In a similar fashion, they provide aggregations of Remote Networking News and Service Provider Network news. They call each of these three displays "channels" and articles are associated with one or more channel through the use of a channel metatag.
News by Vendor presents hundreds of articles from the category of vendor news sortable either by relevance or date. They make a practice of naming companies in headlines to allow you to find news about specific companies. The list provides the headlines, link to full article, date, url, and the first 100 characters from the article.
Newsletter Archives is an index page that provides access to lists or newsletters similar to the News by Vendor for about 25 other categories.
This Week in Print is an online version of a sectional print publication complete with frontpage news, reviews, columns, news of lesser note, and links to past issues. It displays the headline, link, and description for each article in the issue.
My second interesting example of aggregation and filtering is Julian Bond.s and Glenn Watkins' Ecademy: The E-Business Network. It is completely Open Source using PHP, the Drupal content management system, and MySQL.
Latest News are headlines that link to articles arranged chronologically, newest to oldest. News by Source are parsed headlines for each of more than 100 feeds, not too unlike Dave Winer's Harvard Aggregator. This view shows channel title, channel description, a link to a page that parses each channel, and a link to the RSS feed for each channel.
News by Topic are aggregated "bundles" for eight topic categories. In Drupal you have feeds and bundles. �Feeds define news sources and bundles categories syndicated content by source, topic or any other heuristic. �Bundles provide a generalized way of creating composite feeds. �They allow you, for example, to combine various business related feeds into one bundle called "Business". You can have any number of government agencies providing news feeds. �
You can add a feed by clicking the "add feed" link on the import administration pages. Give the feed a name, supply the URI and a comma-separated list of attributes that you want to associate the feed with. �The update interval defines how often Drupal should go out to try and grab fresh content. �The expiration time defines how long syndicated content is kept in the database. �So set the update and expiration time and save your settings. �You have just defined your first feed. If you have more feeds repeat as necessary. To verify whether your feed works, press "update items" at the overview page. The number of news items that have been successfully fetched, should then become visible in the third column of the feed overview.
Now you have to define some bundles. Bundles look for feeds that contain one of the keywords associated with the bundle and display those feeds together. To define a bundle you have to give it a name and a comma-separated list of keywords just like in the case for feeds. Your newly created bundle will now show up in the list of blocks that you can see at the block related administration pages. There you can customize where and when your bundles will be displayed. Julian Bond's Voidstar is another site that uses this same Drupal News Aggregator module.
Aggregating, Filtering, and Customizing News by User Defined Queries
Going back to Network World Fusion, if you look a little deeper, you'll discover that you can use their metatag "tuned" Verity Ultraseek (formerly Inktomi Enterprise Search) site search engine to create RSS channels for search terms (topics, companies, author, etc) of your choosing.
To do this you have to do a bit of a hack. You take their search's query string, i.e.
and replace KEYWORD in this string with the keyword(s) or phrase, in lowercase, that you want to use to create your custom RSS feed.
The keywords should match those that the publisher has put into the article's "keywords" metatag. So for example, if you wanted a channel to keep you informed by Adam Gaffin's articles about webbloging, you could replace KEYWORD with gaffin+webblogs.
The first step, though, is to enter Ultraseek queries +keywords:webblogs and +author:gaffin to see if these term actually shows up in the database as a metatag. They do, so we're in luck.
We make the substitutions and now have:
Load this into your browser's address field and it loads the channel producing a page, in this case, with four results. You can now cut and paste it into a RSS parser and clean it up a bit by adding a channel title and description.
If you want to, you can drop out the metatags (i.e. keywords%3A and author%3A) so that it will search the full text of the articles for terms.
For more magical tips about creating channels using metatags in query strings see Adam's article Do-It-Yourself RSS Feed. Since all State of Utah agencies put metatags such as author and keywords into their pages (don't they), and since we now have a search engine that can pass terms in query strings, we may be able to do something similar to create custom RSS feeds.
Something to consider is that there are several services that now construct RSS feeds directly from search queries. This includes Chris Ridings' Fresh Search and