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HEARD ON THE BEAT IN ORANGE COUNTY

Mud Brick Targets County's Web Site

April 26, 1999|JONATHAN GAW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OK, it's not pretty, but is the Orange County Web site really one of the three ugliest government sites on the Internet? The folks at NetStudio Corp., a Web services firm, apparently think so.

They sponsor the annual Mud Brick Awards for the "beer drinking, trailer park counterpart for the world's ugliest Web sites" and their judges have named Orange County's site as a finalist in the government category, along with the state of Texas and city of Villa Hills, Ky.

The judges said the site was difficult to read and crowded.

"This looks like it was done by a techno-nerd or the office librarian," said Amy Wohl, who consults on technology for businesses. "Maybe they think you should suffer a little to get information about such a nice place?"

Orange County officials countered that the county has recently implemented a system to accept bids online as a way to streamline purchasing. Also, it last year became the first county in the nation to let the public order copies of birth, death and marriage certificates through its Web site. But it does charge an additional $4 fee to do so.

What's more, the county said, it's testing audio transmissions of Board of Supervisors meetings over the Internet.

Still, only half the county's 28 departments and agencies are online, and there is no person assigned full-time to oversee the Web site, according to Leo Crawford, who is in charge of information technology for the county.

Lack of funding keeps the county from expanding online, Crawford said.

"Our focus is getting good information out there," Crawford said. "Whether it's pretty or not is not really our focus. We want to make it easy to use and provide good, accurate information that the public finds useful."

The Mud Brick Awards winners will be announced May 4. Finalists can be seen by visiting www.muddies.com. Orange County's site is at www.oc.ca.gov.

Jonathan Gaw covers technology and electronic commerce for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-7818 and at jonathan.gaw@latimes.com.

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