Social Government

New Media in the States

I did a survey of how state governments are using new media to interact with their residents and to find out which state had the best program. I found that most usages fell into a few categories, listed below, and that the best was something quite unexpected.

Traffic and Other Maps

Maps have been perfected by the Internet. Open APIs, vast informational layers and search functions have made maps even more useful. A few state governments have harnessed this powerful new tool to relay traffic conditions to residents. Most notable are the New Hampshire and Tennessee Web sites. Maryland deserves extra credit for using an interactive map to display green initiatives in and around the Chesapeake Bay.

Safety Alerts

A safety alert is one of the few things that can make sense in 140 characters. However, at the state level, the only program set up to take advantage of social media is Amber Alert, a system for aggregating information on missing children. While certainly a necessary service and a useful implementation of new media, there need to be more programs like this. Certainly a tornado watch system or the like could also benefit from new media.

Recovery Plans

Going off of the example set by, many state governments have created their own version. The best by far (in terms of civic engagement) is that of Illinois. The state has a form for feedback and for people and organizations to suggest projects. It’s a great start, but we’ll have to see how it plays out over the next few months to see how much more transparency the state and federal governments will show.


More and more state governments are using Twitter these days, but very few use the medium correctly. California’s governator is one of the few who do. Schwarzenegger has set up a Twitter group on Buzzable to talk about anything currently going on in Sacramento and to disseminate important information. The Idaho government also uses Twitter effectively. While the state still does not engage its residents in conversation, it does use its Twitter for more than just an RSS aggregator: among other things, it has linked its Amber Alert system to its Twitter feed.


Virginia was the only state I found to have created widgets for use by its residents, businesses and organizations. Subject areas include wine, traffic patterns, emergency notifications and more.

And on that Note…

Virginia definitely has one of the best new media involvements of any of the states. In addition to their widgets, the commonwealth has an interesting YouTube channel, some podcasts and a fully featured stimulus site. They certainly could use more involvement, especially on Twitter, but they have the right idea so far. Other governments and organizations would do well to learn from them in their new media endeavors.

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  • Hunter Senft-Grupp

    I have a couple of questions:
    1) In what ways do the States publicize their “Web 2.0” features?
    2) What percent of the State populations “participate” in the new features?
    3) What is the demography of the users?

    The availability of these Web features is definitely progressive in a movement towards greater civic participation in government. The next step that must occur (especially as the Internet generation reaches political maturity) is “sale” of these features to the population. I use the word sale in the sense that users must be made to feel that by using these features they are in fact participating in government – and they must ACTUALLY be participating in government as well.

    Thanks Alex for this illuminating survey.

  • Alexander Muir

    1) usually, they don’t, or they just have a small icon in the corner of their front page. my methods for discovering their involvement included searches, both manual and googlized.
    2) concrete numbers are really only available for twitter/youtube, since that information is published by the sites themselves. but going off those numbers, at the state level, very few people are taking advantage of their new media programs
    3) young and/or technologically inclined

    future surveys could include freedom of information requests/interviews to get more exact information, this was more of a “what’s out there” thing. I agree that government may need to “sell” these services, but one of the main advantage of social media is its viral nature. For good or ill, I think that at the moment the states are hoping that their ventures will just take off through word of mouth. I’m hoping that by drawing attention to these programs and having discussions about them, citizens will be more likely to look for these programs and that government will refine their implementation

  • http://http// Pho

    While you may be reluctant to get party political with this, I wonder if states with Democratic administrations are more likely to set up Recovery.govs. Given the criticism of the stimulus bill from certain Republican governors, it would be interesting to see how/if they communicate about it online.

  • Alexander Muir

    @Pho, you’re right about partisan politics, but check out

    to draw your own conclusions…

  • Nick

    I know you’re talking about state-level Web 2.0 stuff, but San Francisco has an SMS alert system:

    In a state as large as California, having an SMS alert system even for enormous natural disasters just doesn’t make sense.

    Anyway, thanks for the rundown!

  • Alexander Muir

    @Nick, right- for California something for emergencies might not make sense, but for somewhere like Rhode Island during hurricane season, it makes perfect sense. Larger states could encourage county-level emergency systems, or the state governments themselves could aggregate based on regional area. There are many options, and as you point out, some localities are doing SMS alert systems

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