We’ve said it before and it remains true: The municipal web site continues to evolve.

The success of any web site is determined by many factors, but one key aspect is how easily online visitors can get the information they need. In the early days, most county and local government web sites organized content based on their departmental structure. The problem was that many citizens didn’t know which department handled permits, ordinances, or pet licenses, and therefore had difficulty finding specific material.

Examples of City/County Web Sites That Offer Personalized Service: Medford, OR

Boston, MA

Memphis, TN

Virginia Beach, VA

Oxford, OH

Colorado Springs, CO

New York City, NY

Miami-Dade, FL

Marin County, CA

Hillsborough County, FL

Gaithersburg, MD

Subsequent generations of government web sites were able to achieve more “citizen-tricity” – or user-friendliness – by listing information by service categories. The idea here was to organize materials based on function (from the user’s vantage point) rather than internal government structure.

Maricopa County, Arizona lets online visitors decide for themselves how they want to view information on its web site. Users can toggle between “services” or “departments” to organize menu options in the manner they find most helpful.

Now, an increasing trend in the land of municipal web sites is to offer users the opportunity to customize the information they receive. There are many ways in which county and local governments can tailor information presented to residents and other interested parties.

One way is to notify citizens via e-mail when new items are posted to the web site.

Gaithersburg, Maryland offers a great personalization service on its web site. By indicating specific areas of interest in their personal profile, users register to receive news alerts, meeting agendas and other updates via e-mail based on categories of interest. The sign-up page is very clear and gives users easy-to-understand instructions on how to enroll for the MyGaithersburg.com service.

According to Barry Smith, Gaithersburg’s Director of Information Technology, around 450 people are currently registered for the service, whose primary benefit is an automated reminder to come back to the web site based on the user’s interests. “In fact,” he says, “since we send content with the e-mail, it’s a one-stop shop.”

Smith says that the City also has the ability to send polls and targeted “flashes” (swimming pool closed, meeting cancelled, etc.) to the entire list – an advantage he calls “a great boon.”

In addition to e-mail notification when new information is posted to its web site, Medford, Oregon will send electronic reminders of upcoming calendar events – and can even tailor the message to arrive a specified number of days prior to the event – based on user preferences. Beyond Notification Several cities now offer cutting-edge personalization features that go beyond sending e-mail messages. Boston’s MyGov.com is an excellent example of a web site that truly delivers customized data.

Information about an individual’s property, taxes, and even dog licenses is presented in one personal page that the resident can access by entering their user name and password. The specific information contained on that page is determined by the user’s profile.

Online visitors can tailor their own menu for navigating the Marin County, California web site based on indicated areas of interest. The list of selections is huge – and very detailed. Once saved, the user can click on MyMarin for their customized list of links to pages for specific information.

Jack Pribble, E-Gov Project Manager says that the ability to create a personal profile was included at the time Marin County launched its revamped web site in July 2001. There are currently over 1,300 registered users. Property value information, the County Library online catalog, Humane Society animal services, agricultural and natural resources information are among the most popular personalized links, according to Pribble.

MyVBgov.com is Virginia Beach, Virginia’s personalization feature that acts as a place to store favorite links within the site. Like most Internet browsers, MyVBgov.com allows users to bookmark those pages that they most frequently visit. The list appears in the upper right corner of the home page for easy access.