Ever notice that most government websites leave something to be desired in the awesome department? Take for example the crazy mazes that are the Department of Agriculture or Department of Labor sites.
Well, at a recent Aspen Institute event on transparency and open government Blair Levin, the former FCC advisor and father of the National Broadband Plan, offered a Swiftian suggestion to make such sites more responsive to the public: allow advertisements on them.
“I think we should get rid of the ban,” said Levin “If the government can actually make money on websites, they will treat it as a real resource, and therefore will do things that will encourage people to come to it.”
Advertising on .gov sites has long been prohibited. One reason is that the government wants to avoid the implication that it endorses the products or services being advertised.
Such a concern could be addressed with a more narrowly tailored rule, Levin said over email. “A simple disclaimer should make it clear that the government does not endorse its advertisers should be sufficient and let the individual governments determine the nature and style of the disclaimer.”
Ads on government websites could also help fill the coffers of cash-strapped government and improve content.
“Not only would the elimination of the ban provide a new revenue stream for governments,” Levin said, “it would also encourage governments to treat their sites more seriously and think about how to encourage people to visit and obtain information.”
Jon Gant, a library and information sciences professor at the University of Illinois, said that research he has conducted suggests that when government portals are the result of public-private partnerships, and the private partners are allowed to offer ads on the sites, they turn out much better.
“The websites score much higher on all the different evaluations,” Gant said. “That’s because they do have that market incentive. Because it’s about drawing people into the website.”
This is a novel idea, however, and any move to undo the advertising ban could take years. So it might be a while before you see 1-800-MATTRESS ads when you’re e-filing your taxes.