Public Release: 

Govnews Project Takes Democracy Into Cyberspace

National Science Foundation

The International GovNews Project has announced a special government category on the Internet's Usenet news system. The creation of this new category lays the groundwork for the wide, cost-effective electronic dissemination and discussion by topic of large amounts of public government information.

Through the Usenet system, GovNews will be distributed through thousands of linked Internet servers throughout the U.S. and the world. Millions of people will now be able to follow and comment on government activity in selected areas of interest without extensive surfing on the Web. Schools, businesses and households, without powerful computers and high-speed connections, will now be able to use less complex systems to get rapid access to federal agency information through newsgroup servers located right in their own communities.

The project is the result of a collaborative effort between international public and private sector volunteers seeking to make government more open and accessible to the people.

"The U.S. government is taking a leadership role in providing a technology that could change the face of democracy around the world," said Vice President Al Gore in a letter about the effort.

Usenet news is a broadcast technology somewhat analogous to the Associated Press (AP) newswire service. Reporters from the AP or from newspapers supply information to the AP network which is in turn redistributed by newspapers across the country. Likewise, messages sent to Usenet from authorized sources or from individual users are broadcast to more than 200,000 servers worldwide which in turn supply messages to tens of millions of individual users.

"If the World Wide Web is the Internet's library, Usenet is its newspaper," said Preston Rich, NSF's FinanceNet Executive Director and leader of the International GovNews Project. "For the first time, the GovNews newsgroups on Usenet will facilitate the delivery of government information to your cyberspace doorstep."

According to Rich, official notices, news, announcements, reports and publications from government agencies will be sent to a beginning set of more than 200 new specialized newsgroups.

"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," he said. "GovNews is just keystrokes away."

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. The strength of Usenet has been its capability to rapidly deliver important new information, news and announcements, organized by topic, direct to users through a wide network of Internet servers. Usenet also provides an efficient forum for public discussions on topics of interest.

In addition to the efficient dissemination of government news by topic, GovNews also opens new opportunities for developing public participation and discussion of government news by topic, while providing for important citizen feedback to government administrators.

"GovNews can be today's 'town meeting', where it is easy for anyone to participate," Rich said.

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