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September 20, 2006

Davenport's new web site

Well, the city of Davenport has it's long-in-the-works new website up. It's an improvement on the old one, but deserves nothing more than one thumb partially up.

The new site's biggest failure is that it doesn't include a simple staff directory of the sort found on other government websites in the Quad-Cities and elsewhere. Moline has the best locally -- a one-page guide arranged by department that lists personnel by name and title, along with a telephone number and an email address. It's an enormously useful feature I'd hoped to see on the Davenport's new site.

The lack of email addresses is particularly annoying. An enormous amount of routine back-and-forthing between the public and officialdom can be dealt with most conveniently via email. No phone tag, no interrupting someone who's busy at the moment, no need to wait until business hours to pose a question that you'd like answered sometime in the next day or two.

The new site site does at least include email addresses for city council members and and the various departmental pages do have "contact us" links that name the epartment head and includes telephone and fax numbers. That's an improvement over the old site, but still, why no email addresses?

More positively, the site's new "Action Center" holds the potential to be extremely useful. You can use the Action Center for about everything ranging from reporting an illegally parked car through requesting a special garbage pick-up to appealing a parking ticket. If the system works as promised, you'll get an email confirming your request, an explanation of how the process is going to work and a tracking number that will allow you to check on the status of your request.

Time and practice will demonstrate the practicality of the system. That sidewalk repair request you submit has to be routed to the right person, and the right person has to take some action. The devil's in the follow-through. We'll see.

There's also a payment center that could save the need to write and mail checks, or to visit City Hall to hand over the money. So far, though, parking ticket payments are the only one that can be made via the site. Others, sewer bills, parking lease payments etc., presumably will be added soon.

The "City Services Index" is a good feature. There's a lot of information about a lot of programs that many people may not even know the city offers. Some of it is pretty stale though -- the "speed camera program" link talks about a program that that WILL start Jan. 17, 2006, and announces that the chief of police WILL have a press conference Jan. 11, 2006 about the cameras. Some of the information is missing -- for example, the "List of Current Projects." which is to include a report on the status of each, is still being compiled. Here, again, whether the site fufills its potential depends on the follow-through to a good beginning.

Some of the services offered, while handy, are half-steps: for example, you can download a bicycle registration form or a temporary sign request form (among others), fill it out and mail it in. Would be much handier if the form could be filled out and submitted online. Besides saving the stamp, online submission of such information would save some city worker inputting it into a database or, possibily, shuffling through paper files looking for what's needed later.

The site does take a bow in the general direction of the multimedia age, with various audio and video presentations, ranging from photo slideshows to video of city council meetings. The city council videos -- video, actually, since there's only one up so far -- are handy in that you don't have to watch from beginning to end; you can jump back and forth and probably find the meeting segment in which you're particularly interested.

Check out the site, use some of the features and pass along feedback to the city. I'm sure the web team members will appreciate it as they try to turn this new beginning into a truly snappy service.

Posted by jcb at September 20, 2006 10:59 PM