Way back in February, we analyzed Recovery.gov, a new government Website that bills itself as "the main vehicle to provide each and every citizen with the ability to monitor the progress of the recovery." (The economic recovery, that is.)
At first glance, we were critical of the site and of President Obama for not following through on his promise to post legislation there for five days prior to signing it; as well as the incredible lack of detail within Recovery.gov's graphics and charts -- one which attributed $8 billion of taxpayer money to a category called "Other." While those criticisms still stand, there have been some notable changes and features added to Recovery.gov that are worth a second look, including the addition of State Progress and Resources and Agency Progress and Resources.
The State Progress and Resources page, for example, provides links to individual state recovery sites, which explain how much funding each state has received and how they're spending funds from the stimulus bill. (North Dakota, South Dakota, and South Carolina are the only states that still do not have recovery sites.)
Taking a look at New York's recovery site (recovery.ny.gov), visitors are able to drill down into New York's share of the bailout (approximately $24.6 billion) in areas including infrastructure/energy, health and human services, education, and public safety, noting how much funding is being devoted to projects in each. The same essentially goes for the rest of the map, with some states, like Washington, adding maps of counties receiving funding.
Yet while data intensive, the state sites are hardly interactive, providing few links and only the means for one-way communication.
For example, rather than using a Web 2.0-esque forum like StimulusWatch.org, a third-party site where people can propose and vote on candidate projects for funding, the individual state sites use a static contact form for submitting proposals (yawn... how very Arpanet...). Rather than providing citizens the opportunity to interact with one another about projects receiving funding in their area via a discussion board or comment section, they are arranged in a black-and-white bulleted list. Snore. Thanks, Microsoft Word.
Apart from the state sites, another addition to Recovery.gov, Agency Progress and Resources, provides links to 29 agency recovery sites with information on funding received by the agencies, "major actions" taken so far, and actions planned for the future.
The Department of Energy site, for example (www.energy.gov/recovery), allows visitors to drill down to read announcements and weekly reports on spending.
Similarly, the Department of Commerce site (www.commerce.gov/recovery) provides links to weekly reports in the form of Excel spreadsheets.
While these sites provide basic data to help citizens understand where the money has gone, they don't do much in the way of fostering communication, which is, essentially, the whole point of Web 2.0. The lack of interactivity on the state and agency sites is reflected on Recovery.gov as well, whose promise of interactive charts and graphs has remained, as yet, largely unrealized.
Further, despite the additions to Recovery.gov, it appears the American people aren't all that enthused. Data from Alexa shows that the site's traffic spiked for a while in February and has since significantly dropped off:
Could it be that the site isn't living up to its expectations where data and interactivity are concerned? Is there not enough data available yet to intrigue the masses? Or is the connected portion of America just not all that interested in delving into the details of its lost tax dollars?
— Nicole Ferraro, Site Editor, Internet Evolution