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.
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.
Going off of the example set by Recovery.gov, 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.