PortlandOnline.com. We can rebuild it. We have the technology.

PortlandOnline.com is the City of Portland’s official government web site. It is, largely, a broken web site. Information that should be accessible on a web page is typically hidden inside a PDF file. Resource allocations of amounts like $84 million cannot be found without first tracking down the relevant ordinance number, and even then there is precious little information available. (Ten points for whoever can find the $84 million item on this page!)

And no, this isn’t just another one of Pete’s pointless rants — at the end of this post, I’ll explain what’s new and unique about the YouTube video below:

Anyway, back to PortlandOnline.com. The City did a survey last fall on the site’s usability, but I don’t have much confidence that the kind of fundamental change that’s necessary (which is more about office culture and design principles than it is about technology) will be forthcoming. I’ve talked with enough City Hall employees to be convinced that the needed changes will not be coming from within City Hall. And this is no surprise: the public sector is often the last to figure out how to benefit from new technology.

But don’t despair! In 2008, a centralized web site is not nearly as important as it used to be. What we really need is a web presence for Portland government — and a centrally-produced, centrally-located web site is only one of many ways to get there. It’s the old way. It’s the boring way, and the frustrating way.

But interested citizens and interest groups can — and increasingly will — augment what the City puts online with the materials they need. A few examples: the Wikipedia article on Portland City Hall; the “Next up at City Council” features Amanda Fritz has been diligently posting on her blog every week; and the Protect Portland Parks blog, in which the Mt. Tabor Planning Group has (er, I have) kept some notes about the progress of our endeavor.

Anyway — I’ve just figured out another piece of the puzzle. Citizen activists/journalists, take note! I’ve managed to free some City Council video footage from its RealPlayer prison on portlandonline.com, and republish it on YouTube. Scroll back up and take another look at that video clip of the goofy lookin’ guy arguing with Randy Leonard — my guess is you’ve never seen anything like that on a blog before. Not from Portland City Council.

Is the process incredibly time-consuming? YES!! Is specialized equipment needed? YES!! But it’s possible. And worth doing, for any 5-10 minute clip of a Council meeting that might be of interest to the public. So let me know if you need any such clips converted!

More of the hearing:

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6 Responses to “PortlandOnline.com. We can rebuild it. We have the technology.”

  1. I’m still trying to find out if there are such online videos for the Gresham City Council. That’s the one I blog on the most, but you’re pretty much out of luck unless you can be there or watch it on community access cable. Makes me wish I had TIVO or somethings so I could set the meetings to record easily.

  2. This is great work. I wish I had time to contribute to it. But I at least want you to know there are Portland residents out there who would like to see more of it, and appreciate your efforts. Consider pinging bojack.org, I bet he’d support this kind of effort, and raise its visibility.

    adeu,
    Mateu

  3. Here’s how I’d create a vibrant, cost/effective, upgrade to Portland Online (as explained on my February 14th, 2004 post on DailyWireless.org:
    (http://www.dailywireless.org/2004/02/14/portlandonline-vrs-the-blogs/)

    (1) A standardized blog package is set up for each neighborhood association. Free.

    (2) Each blog links back to PortlandOnline.com and to other neighborhood associations.

    (3) Each neighborhood association can create their own relevant content. The neighborhood could assign editorial access to as many people as they choose, create chat rooms, bulletin boards and other features. Nightlife, Photo Essays, you name it.

  4. Jenni: the good news is, the method I came up with would actually be a little bit easier using cable TV as the starting point, rather than streaming RealPlayer videos. (Again, it’s enough of a pain in the butt that it’s only worth doing on issues of major importance.)

    Mateu: Thanks for the shout-out, always nice to know there are people watching! And, as for your Bojack.org suggestion…”our new mind” think in unison! I sent Jack an email about it, and looks like he just linked this post. Should be exciting to see where this all goes. Which leads me to…

    Sam: Thanks for the link to your excellent rundown — I wish I’d seen that in 2004! Just skimmed through it, it’s chock-full of good ideas, many of which are still relevant.

    However, I have had a front row seat to how neighborhood coalitions and associations would approach something like this, and I don’t share your confidence that they will be any better at centralizing things than City Hall. (I served on the Communications Committee for Southeast Uplift, and did the early work on their new web site.) The desire is there, but the focus is generally not on creating an infrastructure that lets people publish their own content easily. (SEUL did recently launch their new web site, which is well worth a look.)

    Bottom line, I think this stuff is best organized by the people who have a passion for it, rather than in a hierarchical manner. If we just do a good enough job of linking to one another, we can meet a lot of needs without the need for advance planning.

  5. Hey Pete – when are you going to run for mayor? Seriously….

    I just started to build my website. Just = it is one day old.

  6. Pete,

    I’m really interested in the process you are using to take old RealMedia files and convert them for YouTube. I’m in a similar pickle myself and would love your suggestions on how to work through the situation.

    Thanks so much!

    Seth

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