Why does the City Council hate blogging?

That’s the only conclusion I can come to upon reading their new rules governing city council members blogging.

Yes, they’re less restrictive than what was rumored at yesterday, but still, they read like some antsy lawyers got in the same room with the group of IT guys up there who’ve never been near the Web (and probably wish it was all written in Java so they could understand it.)

Here’s a gem:

Links to external content should open in a new window: Hyperlinks to external content should open a new tab, or “spawned” browser window. Visitors should be advised that pop-up blockers may interfere with this action.

First off, “spawned” windows? What do these people think this is, Team Fortress 2? Secondly, there are considerable arguments against popping open new windows every time you click on an external link. Most notably, everyone using Firefox (roughly 1/3 of all users) is running a pop-up blocker by default. And thirdly, do they think us readers are stupid and can’t tell the difference between a city website and, oh, a local newspaper?

Here’s another beauty:

To ensure that information is secure, access is easily available, and personal information is protected, avoid referencing or linking to sites that:
ii. Require subscription or registration. When this is done, label these links “registration required”.

Yes, please avoid linking to the New York Times, city council member. But maybe council members are a little new at this computer thing. I’m sure Jean Godden will figure out those pesky punch cards in no time, though!

iii. Attempt to install malware on a visitor’s computer.

Wait, council members have to be told to note sites require registration because they don’t have experience with this, but now you’re expecting them to know what malware is, much less figure out which sites are carrying that payload?

Somewhere in the thousands in taxes, parking fees, and forthcoming bag fees, is any of it set aside for virus protection software? You know, the kind that keeps sites from installing malware on city computers???

x. Include content that would be identified as inappropriate to be linked to a City site by the Office of Ethics and Elections.

And they would know that… how? By the presence of malware? Registration? Link shorteners?

If the problem, in the end, is making sure council members are blogging appropriately, why doesn’t the city host blogs for them? What, you think it’s going to cost them money? WordPress, ExpressionEngine, and the open source version of Movable Type are free. All you need is a database — oh look, MySQL is free! — and space on the servers they probably already have. Oh, and some people up there who know how to create websites, people with web design, web development, and web production experience. (Hint to the city’s IT department: None of these skills require Java, and no, you can’t create a web page in Java, and please try not to.)

I mean, what’s it going to take, City Hall? A couple thousand, at the very most? That’s what the city probably drops on wining and dining corporate muckymucks at Canlis in a month. And think about it — if you actually used a real platform, you could have comments, from local citizens, talking about what’s in the post. Constituents could actually try to engage and interact with blogging city employees and council members.

This is what open, transparent democracy looks like. Having council members like Burgess and Harrell and Clark blog — and interact with their readers through commenting — means more access to government.

And all you have to do is grab some people who know how to blog and get them to help you. Let’s start with getting actual bloggers to help you rewrite these rules so they are usable and sensible. I’m sure if you looked really hard you might find some local bloggers in Seattle. Check your punch cards, Ms. Godden.

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