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States want in on dot-gov domain

An increasing number of states are discovering that "government" is a pretty good trademark. As part of the growing effort to bolster e-government services, more states are switching their Internet portals to address that end in .gov.

States are finding that as they add electronic-based services to their Web sites, they face the same problem as commercial entities: creating memorable brands. Many states launched their online services with Internet addresses that incorporate the cumbersome suffix .state.us. But using the name of the state, such as Ohio, with the .gov suffix is becoming more popular.

Dozens of states--including Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin--have changed their domains with the goal of establishing one-stop shops for government workers, citizens and industry groups to access information and services.

"We needed to establish a brand identity for the new state portal," Stephanie Comai, the director of office in charge of Michigan's online efforts, said of her state's change. "The old state address--www.state.mi.us--was quite difficult for people to remember, and we wanted to encourage traffic to the site."

Approved in May 2001, Michigan.gov was one of the first sites, Comai said. "We are doing some metrics, and we are seeing greater customer ease of use," she said in explaining the difference the name change has made. "We're still in the midst of converting the agencies to the .gov name, but more people are coming to visit the site. We've seen a quadrupling of page views."

The federal government's General Services Administration manages .gov addresses. The suffix once was reserved for federal agencies, but in 1999, GSA amended its policy to allow state and local governments to claim .gov addresses.

According to GSA's domain-name database, about seven states possess active .gov domains but do not have sites available at those domains. Four other states--Illinois, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Virginia--appear to have .gov domain registrations pending, while Washington and Vermont have "reserved" their state names under .gov. Roughly 33 states hold some variation of .gov addresses, according to GSA.

"Our feeling was, people would be more likely to search for .gov when searching for any government portal, as opposed to the classical state.us," said Kate Nolan of Wisconsin's Department of the Administration.

Rick Shipley, the administrator for e-government deployment at Ohio's Department of Administrative Services, said the state's prominently featured online job-searching mechanism has resulted in savings of $58,000 in printing costs over the past year. State agencies also are reviewing the impact of Ohio's new .gov portal and costs savings related to it.

State Web administrators caution that design and navigation changes on the portals may explain some of the increase in Web traffic, but the government branding also is an integral part of the redesigns. "It makes sense at a national level to have that type [of domain address] for the branding and installing constituent confidence that they are on the state Web site," Shipley said.