NSF creates special government newsgroup category
Calls two-year-old project a step toward online democracy
New York (March 31, 1997) -- For years, technology-savvy public officials and politically-minded private citizens have been talking about using the Internet to conduct national -- and even global -- electronic "town meetings," where anyone with online access can go to learn about and debate public policy.
The International GovNews Project, a hybrid public/private initiative, has tried to take a step toward this vision of online democracy by creating a special government category on the Internet's Usenet news system. The new category of newsgroups is designed to lay the groundwork for international, cost-effective dissemination and discussion of masses of public government information.
The new GovNews newsgroups, which can be accessed by subscribing to "gov.*" newsgroups on Usenet, aim to allow people to follow and comment on government activity in selected areas of interest without extensive surfing on the Web, according to officials at the National Science Foundation. The NSF, a U.S. government agency, has helped to organize and provide host services for GovNews.
The gov.* newsgroups gather related information, eliminating the need for 'Net surfers to go to a variety of separate Web sites to find information on a given public-policy topic, NSF officials said.
The GovNews Project was started two years ago mainly by private volunteers, but the NSF has helped organize and provide server technology for the group, along with donations from private companies.
There are more than 200 separate newsgroup-topic listings under the gov.* umbrella category. The hierarchy of listings is designed to make it easy to locate the latest press releases and information from U.S. government and international agencies, such as the G7 group of industrialized nations.
Official notices, news, announcements, reports and publications from government agencies are being sent to the specialized newsgroups. But since government agencies don't actually control the list and the information presented, Usenet users can find information on a broad range of government-related but non-official topics, such as alleged government cover-ups of evidence of extraterrestrial beings on earth.
Foreign governments have been invited to contribute newsgroup listings to the gov.* category.
The newsgroups are logically organized by topic from privatization, procurements, and emergency alerts to toxic waste and marine resources, and include the capability to discuss such information.
While active on the World Wide Web for some time, governments have not until now been able to use the special advantages of the Usenet system, NSF officials noted. The strength of Usenet has been its capability to rapidly deliver important new information, news, and announcements, organized by topic, direct to users through the Internet.
The initial newsgroups were released by NSF three weeks ago. They can be accessed free through the Usenet service provided by Internet service providers, as well as through major online services such as CompuServe. Information on the GovNews Project, including information on the variety of ways to access the gov.* listings, can be obtained at http://www.govnews.org/.
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