Dispute over funding ongoing County Web Portal Grows - Editorial
My grandmother used to say, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" when analysis paralysis was setting in. It was an effective way to remind me that there is a wide gulf between cogitating-planning something and the reality of making it happen. Someone more contemporary might use “Getting Real”. As our own county's web portal idea, as proposed by the members of CEDAC, has been put out to bid, it is being attacked, and defended. The staff issued a bid request that included contriversal ad revenue as noted by a member of the Board of Supervisors and Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kim Kerr.
The major issue is how to fund the proposed web portal's ongoing costs. This is a real issue for the BOS as it is normal for every project to have the ongoing cost far exceeding the start-up cost. Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kim Kerr addressed the point at the July 16 board meeting when Supervisor Ron Mikulaco asked her if the county was going to advertise and have ads popping up. She said that would be the goal, to get some advertising to help pay for the ongoing cost of the portal.
For us less emerged in municipal budgets, a car purchase is a good example of this principle. We buy a car for $30,000 and then put $50,000 of fuel in it without counting any auto taxes, fees, registration, maintenance or upkeep. It is not uncommon to spend twice as much on ongoing expenses than the initial cost of the car.
The BOS is keenly aware of the high cost of keeping projects running after they have been initiated and asked about covering ongoing cost with advertising. The BOS heard the CEDAC presentation, asked questions, then approved a $100,000 budget and directed staff to issue a RFP for the project. The staff, which follows BOS direction regardless of any presentations made to the BOS, then issued a RFP including, "Generate Advertising Revenue to support the ongoing maintenance of the web portal." (1)
The Mt Democrat, well known to be zealous in guarding their advertising revenue, responded with an editorial that in part said,
"The plan for this Web 'Portal' to sell advertising is an affront to the Mountain Democrat and Village Life and all the other publications and commercial Web sites. We accept and meet the challenge of competition. We will not accept our tax dollars being used to set up competition against us and everyone else. We don’t invest in our competition, why should we be forced to pay for a new competitor?" (2)
Kathleen Newell wrote,
"Ongoing expenses related to running the portal would come from the advertising on the portal." I hope this is not the case. I do not recall discussion at the Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting regarding participants having to pay for being on this site. It was proposed as an all-inclusive 'one stop info' access site for everything El Dorado County, not a pay to play site. El Dorado County already has a very decent portal site called ElDoradoGuide.com (a private business). We also have a County funded portal site called the El Dorado County Visitors Authority which already has all the stuff this new 100k portal site is supposed to have... Bottom line is the 100k the County is spending for this new portal will be duplicating something we already have. Why?" (3)
Shawn Eyer wrote,
"Even if there wasn't an existing portal, I don't understand why they would want to get into the advertising business. This is something for a chamber of commerce or visitor's bureau to do at the most. It creates conflict of interest all the way up and down the line. For example, the county will now get ad revenue from restaurants, but it must also inspect those restaurants for health code violations. I'm not saying the ad revenue will sway the food safety inspectors. I am saying that the county could be in the business of recommending restaurants on the one hand while warning against them on the other." (4)
Marty Mendenhall wrote,
"Thanks for putting this article up Cris. You are absolutely correct in noting that El Dorado County already has portal style sites up and running that are quite effective. All this new site does is rob advertising dollars from sites like www.winendinegoldcountry.com that is run by Kath and I or www.InEDC.com We need support from the county, not competition that is financed by tax payer dollars!" (5)
Soon CEDAC web portal proponents became defensive and spoke up about "advertising" on the web portal.
Michael Ranalli, who is a member of CEDAC, said the original proposal submitted by them to the county made no mention of advertising. Michael wrote,
"The proposal that CEDAC made to the board did not suggest advertising businesses. I WANT TO MAKE THIS POINT ABSOLUTELY CLEAR. The examples shown to the board such as Only in Seattle did not have an advertising component. The purpose is to market our county and communities. This marketing effort goes hand-in-hand with the community planning, community ID and design effort occurring in so many areas of our county. Marketing the communities where economic development begins NOT ADVERTIZING BUSINESSES! I believe the confusion came from some dialog about how the ongoing cost would be supported. The board-approved plan expects the vendor to estimate the ongoing cost.The two-year cost approved by this board is to support the content development and marketing of the site NOT BUSINESSES. The plan developed in cooperation with a great many members of the private sector and approved by the board did not recommend advertising business. While staff works at the direction of the board, and THIS BOARD may choose that advertising route in the future this was not our proposal. Please be advised." (6)
In addition, Maryann Argyres, another member of CEDAC, wrote,
"...the Web portal proposal has absolutely nothing to do with advertising. None. After much research trying to see how other jurisdictions promote themselves in a united way, two glowing examples emerged. Both Seattle and San Diego have portal Websites that drive visitors to all aspects of their communities. Every incorrect example you mentioned has nothing to do with the portal CEDAC promoted. None. This will be one central site that directs visitors to communities, areas, agriculture, recreation, arts, everything El Dorado County offers. The proliferation of such sites now is confusing. And importantly, the Web portal will not be beholden to specific interests — a major distinction to what is now the case. Chambers of Commerce can and should promote businesses. Ours do. CEDAC never recommended advertising on the portal. That would defeat the plan to attract visitors to our communities and organizations. It is important to recognize the definition of a portal — a doorway, a gate, or an entrance — not a marketing gimmick. No self-promotion or advertising." there. (7)
This is where the web portal idea has to get real. How much is the ongoing cost of the web portal and how is the county to pay for those costs?
Unfortunately for taxpayers, the RFP does not clearly ask that question. It does ask how to "Generate Advertising Revenue to support the ongoing maintenance of the web portal" but it never asks how much upkeep over the next 5-10 years will cost.
Does it matter or is this a tempest in a teapot?
Let us get real! I currently operate the busiest local website in El Dorado County and operated a Portal website for El Dorado County before abandoning it due to the high overhead cost of such a website. (8)(9)
That is right, I gave up the Portal site because the maintenance cost was too high.
The key to successful and useful websites is new and current information. Although the majority of the information the county wants online is already available in databases ready for purchase, the information is not a one-time-snapshot. Recreational opportunities are always changing, businesses are coming or going, services offered by the county are always evolving, or being cancelled. A good website will spend a great effort to keep this information up-to-date, while a poor website will wait for angry complainers to alert them of outdated information before making changes. When I use the words "good website" I mean one that gives the user the info expected and by "poor website" I mean one that would give users bad or outdated information.
Nobody has advocated for a county web portal that we spend $100,000 in two years and get left with a quickly aging data source with no way to fund the updating needed. Some people would lead you to believe that the upkeep is minimal while other will tell you that the upkeep is critical and expensive.
Let us get real and look at that a bit more closely.
If the website offers 100,000 individual data files (businesses, government services, NGOs, recreation, Apple Hill, Wines, Rafting, Tahoe, etc., etc.) and only 5% change per year, than 5,000 records will need updating each year. That is 25 per day!
For each of those obsolete records:
- The obsolete record must be identified before a user gets bad information. Unfortunately this cannot be achieved with automated "dead link checkers" as many company websites remain online long after the business has closed its doors (just like the sign on the building);
- The record must be corrected with new information or deleted;
- New records must be added as new businesses/events/opportunities emerge.
All that, 25 times, every day.
When we get real, we see that an effective portal site for El Dorado County, as imagined, would take at least one full time employee. As the cost of government employees is high, we can estimate the cost could be around $100,000 each year to maintain the site appropriately. Is the county, and its taxpayers, willing to spend a million dollars over the next decade for a web portal that could be said to be duplicating work already done, or will they seek another way to pay for the project?
Mike Applegarth, who is the Principal Analyst in the Chief Administrative Office, said, "Ultimately the Board of Supervisors will have to make the decision, but it’s 100 percent our intent not to solicit advertising or compete with El Dorado County businesses. We don’t want to put ourselves in competition with those businesses.”
I think the Maryann Argyres touched upon a sensitive subject that has gone unspoken: "Every incorrect example you mentioned has nothing to do with the portal CEDAC promoted. None. This will be one central site that directs visitors to communities, areas, agriculture, recreation, arts, everything El Dorado County offers. The proliferation of such sites now is confusing. And importantly, the Web portal will not be beholden to specific interests — a major distinction to what is now the case." In this case, Maryann's comments are in response to a Mt Democrat editorial in which the story is referring to two county websites, one is a county government website and one is a tourism website operated by the Chamber. The "proliferation of such sites now is confusing" is assumed to be private enterprise trying to meet a perceived need that is is assumed currently unmet by the marketplace.
Who is the "portal" website that the new portal is intended to give the county more control? Could it be the El Dorado County Chamber's website? It could be argued that this website is seriously underperforming. Comparisons between the EDC visitors’ portal www.visit-eldorado.com offered by the EDC County Chamber is unimpressive when compared to South Lake Tahoe's Chamber tourisim website, www.Tahoesouth.com. Even with that said, visit-eldorado.com offers much of the information being asked for in a new website. Why not improve what we already have rather than reinvent the wheel? Is it just a control issue?
Almost as egregious as spending $100,000 as an end-around to push one person out of the county's web portal business, is the idea that El Dorado County can offer something comparable to what the cities of Seattle and San Diego can offer. The budgets of each of these cities dwarfs our own. Just because Seattle can afford a million dollar website does not mean that our little county has that kind of money.
Evelyn wrote, "Seattle and San Diego as 'glowing examples'? Help!!! We're in even greater difficulty than I had realized. Maryann Argyres of CEDAC needs to do some research. In Seattle, which was slower to feel the effects of the recession, leadership is just starting to wake up to the realization that we are in far greater financial trouble than we were willing to acknowledge. At first, budget deficits of $40 million were discussed. Now that revenue is unlikely to rebound in the near future, budget deficits as high as $120 million (over the next two years) are being discussed. Whole Books focus on San Diego’s financial problems." (10)
Okay, money does count. How do we pay for an "everything to everyone" website? On the other hand, do we want to propose something that works and we can afford?
South Tahoe's Chamber community portal gets 50 times the traffic of El Dorado County's Chamber web portal! (11a&11b) Tahoe has got it figured out on how to serve the public in online community informational services. They also do it with a budget that is sustainable in our area rather than Megalopolis.
To get real, El Dorado County needs to file responses to the current RFP and ask Tahoe's Chamber how much it cost to operate their web portal. If that is within the range that the BOS thinks could be available within the county's budget, than issue a new RFP without the paid advertising condition, but that does ask for an estimate of ongoing costs in order to see the true cost of the proposal.
Cris Alarcon, Web Publisher.
... Scope of Services: The project objective is to create a web portal that will serve as a “launching point” or gatewayto all the assets ...
Admin - 07/23/2013 - 05:25 - 7 comments
... Tax purse strings to fund: • $100,000 for a county-wide web portal • $100,000 for a grant development program • $40,000 for ...
Admin - 04/01/2013 - 07:24 - 0 comments
Image: A plan for a $100,000 Web “Portal” is going to wind up being a black hole sucking up all the light from ...
Admin - 07/19/2013 - 06:31 - 1 comment
(11) Alexa Web Services: http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/visit-eldorado.com#trafficstats & http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/tahoesouth.com#trafficstats