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The City of Boise's Social Network

City departments are pushing out nearly 40 websites and 35 separate Facebook accounts, in spite of the fact there are only 13 city departments.

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When the Boise City Council studied a graph charting web traffic, the contrast among the city's many departmental websites was startling.

As expected, Parks and Recreation peaked higher than most, particularly in the summer. The Boise Public Library remained steady through much of the year, as did Planning and Development and the Boise Police Department. But clustered at the bottom of the chart was a flat-lined technicolor mess—dozens of websites that registered little to no web traffic. City departments are pushing out nearly 40 websites and 35 separate Facebook accounts, in spite of the fact there are only 13 city departments.

"But 70 percent of those web pages have gone nine months or more without being updated," said JoAnne Anderson, the city's recently-hired director of Community Engagement. "We need to be delivering the right information at the right time to the right audience."

That's why Anderson is proposing what she called a "citizen-centric" city of Boise website, in effect redesigning the city's social network.

Anderson's next display during a Jan. 26 strategic planning City Hall session may have been a bit too personal. She showed her own Amazon.com homepage, revealing her shopping history (Tide detergent and plenty of running shoes), along with Amazon's recommended personal purchases. Anderson said she used Amazon as a prime example of a proposed customization of the city of Boise's website that could greet visitors with personally tailored information, including possible reminders of unpaid parking tickets or overdue library books.

"Might that creep people out?" asked Council President Lauren McLean.

Boise Chief of Staff Jade Riley assured city leaders the issue had been discussed in management meetings.

"Yes we want to set boundaries," he said. "No, we don't want to freak people out."

McLean said she thought younger citizens might not have any problem with personal customization when visiting websites but older generations might "freak out."

Anderson responded, saying she and her colleagues were "at the very early stages of what might be possible."

"We want to protect our citizens," she added. "That's very important."

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