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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Government Inefficiency - URL edition

I've been sitting on this one for a week or so, but it came to our attention locally that the state of Texas had created a web site with which to determine your local representation. You type in your address and it tells you who your U.S. senators and representatives are, all the way through state Senate and House and board of education.

The radio host who was discussing the web-site rattled of the URL of the site three or four times but it didn't seem to stick. After several phone calls from people asking for the URL to be repeated, the host finally got frustrated, asked for a moment to try something out and came back with a solution that epitomizes the difference between the private and the public sector.

Government URL: www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us - try reading that out loud for someone to write down.

Private Solution: Go to Google and search "who represents me"

Which approach is easier? Which approach is worth more on the open market? An interesting question is whether the government URLs are so complicated because of incompetence, inefficiency, or because the government really doesn't want to scarf up all the easy URLs that would be valuable, say www.whorepresentsme.com. Perhaps government URLs are so complicated precisely because no profit-seeking enterprise would ever choose them?

Well... 50 cents says that URL "translates" as "For-Your-Information State-Legislature-of-Texas USA" -- i.e., it represents the state of the art in web site naming as of say 5-10 years ago on UNIX/Linux/FreeBSD/Solaris servers -- it's descriptive, accurate, succinct, and alas totally unmemorable.

These days, very few people attempt to devise such site names; they count on get visitors by pointers from other sites (i.e., from people browsing the 'net who click on "http:\\www.fyi.legis.state.texas.us") and by sticking phrases such "who represents me" into the descriptive sections of the HTML coding that sets up their web pages -- which is exactly what the state employee who set up that site did, so search engines like Google and Yahoo establish a connection between the site and the phrase.

This isn't a conflict between government and free-enterprise, in other words. It's just a mixture of 1996 and 2006 technology. You can get quite as lost trying to steer to specific web pages at say the Microsoft or IBM web sites.

ming the more-or-less
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