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Legislation, Policies and Standards

City of Seattle Single Domain Name Policy

Interpretation of Council Resolution 29563, April 19, 2002

Table of Contents

Introduction:

Seattle City Council Resolution 29563 establishes the policy that the City of Seattle will maintain a single web site. The policy embodied by this document supports and reinforces the resolution, and provides interpretation regarding the use of alternate Domain Names. In recognition of the diverse offerings and people served by the City's web site, this interpretation provides for exceptions to the use of the City of Seattle's primary domain name, Seattle.gov, in limited circumstances. Therefore, this policy establishes exception criteria, an exception process, and means by which an organization seeking an exemption can appeal exemption determinations directly to the City's technology policy makers.

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Policy:

  1. Requests for separate domains should be made consistent with the process outlined in Section I.
  2. Requests for separate domains should be evaluated consistent with the criteria outlined in Section II. Organizations with existing separate domains should be evaluated against these same criteria and, where appropriate, be given direction by the WGB on how to comply with the ordinance and this interpretation of it.
  3. Organizations whose request for a separate domain is accepted should comply with the conditions set forth in Section III.

Section I: Process for Applying for an Exemption

  1. All applications for an exemption from the single domain policy should be signed by the director or top executive of the Department, office, or organization.
  2. All applications for an exemption from the single domain policy shall state in writing which exception criteria the organization believes applies to its request.
  3. Applications shall be submitted to the City's central web team (CWT) who will make the preliminary decision of whether an exemption should be granted. If the City's CWT determines that the application does not conform to the exception criteria, the CWT shall give the applying department options as to how they can achieve their purpose without the exception.
  4. Appeals from the preliminary decision are to be made in writing to Web Governance Board. The CTO is the final step in the appellate process.
  5. All domain names exempted from the policy should be owned by the City and managed by the central web team.
  6. All registrations for exempt domain names shall be made by the central web team. This is to avoid the complications that arise when multiple organizations interface with registration companies.

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Section II: Exception Criteria

This section outlines criteria for evaluating applications for exception to the City's Single Domain Name Policy. Each criterion would not need to be present for the exception to be granted. Conversely, an application identifying one or a few of the stated criteria would not automatically be approved. Rather, each application should be viewed from the totality of the circumstances as guided by the criteria below. Further, applicants should feel free to suggest additional criteria they feel are appropriate to their application.

  1. Requests to purchase separate domains to "park" or otherwise take out of the public domain:
    The City's central web team should purchase and hold on to any reasonable alternative domains suggested by City organizations to keep them out of the public domain. This should be done to protect these domains from misuse by others.
  2. Domain aliases:
    It is assumed that a City organization employing a domain name alias would have the alias domain point back to the organization's web site on the City's web site. Therefore, issues of look, feel and navigation do not arise. Criteria for an exception to the policy for an alias domain include:
    1. The site provides or markets a service that one would not necessarily expect to be provided by a municipal government.


    2. The site provides or markets services to large or focused customer base.


    3. The applying organization should be long term and stable in nature.


    4. The site or service should involve a single line of business.


    5. The site should not conflict with City's existing branding efforts.
  3. Separately hosted domains:
    In addition to the criteria listed above applications for a separately hosted domain should have one or more of the following:
    1. The site is over arching all or a large portion of City government and has a functional domain name with a specific purpose (example: seattlearts.net).
    2. The site is an intergovernmental organization or some type of partnership targeted at a regional audience. For intergovernmental sites, our first consideration would be whether this is appropriate for www.govlink.org, an existing regional site hosted by King County.
    3. The majority of the site's content is provided by organizations outside City government.
    4. The site's content is maintained by both City and non-City sources. The site's communication plan or originating organization has a separate marketing budget.
    5. The sites originating organization has a separate governance structure or board.
    6. The site competes for business against organizations in the private sector.
    7. The site is not in conflict with the will of the Mayor or City Council.
    8. The site conforms to the conditions stated in section 3 of this document.
    Note: It is our expectation that requests for separate domain names would be very rare. If numerous requests for separate domain names are received, the central web team is requested to bring this issue back to the Web Governance Board for review.
  4. Exceptions generally would not be granted for:
    1. Events (www.funrun2002.xxx) - too much resource is required to market a site for a limited period of time.


    2. Dot com - we are not a commercial enterprise and should stay away from the .com ending (we don't want businesses using .gov)


    3. Entire or substantial parts of City departments

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Section III: Conditions Applied to Exempted Domains

  1. All City web sites utilizing an exempted domain name shall be clearly labeled as being affiliated with the City of Seattle and contain, at a minimum, the official seal of the City of Seattle and a prominent link back to the City's main web site.
  2. Unless the originating organization can comply with the criteria indicating that it is sufficiently independent from the City (e.g. section II, 3, e), exempted City web sites utilizing an exempted domain name shall make reasonable efforts to comply with the general look, feel and navigational standard developed for the City's main site.

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Appendix A. Policy Framework Discussion

Problem Statement
Currently, there are several City departments or units that have purchased separate domain names and/or have created web sites separate from the Citywide site. Additionally, the City's central web team continues to receive requests to host new domains for departments, sections, programs and/or events.

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Background
In response to the risk that the City's web presence would become fragmented by multiple separate domain names, the City Council adopted a policy under RESOLUTION 29563 concerning the City's Public Access Network (PAN) that states the City of Seattle shall have a single web site. The reasoning behind this policy was to provide an easily identifiable place for citizens to obtain official City information.

This goal has been furthered though the basic philosophy and construction of the web site (based on the knowledge that users typically look for services or programs, not for organizational units), by providing a functional and easily navigable structure.

Marketing consultants considering autonomous organizations recommend that they create a brand that includes their own domain name - but when consulted from a City perspective, have recommended a "City" brand.

Seattle allows more flexibility within the existing single domain policy then any City site researched. This flexibility allows City organizations to minimize the length and complexity of website addresses. Thus, Seattle allows organizations to utilize www.Citydomain.gov/your-site-here/, while, other local government sites require City organizations to follow a strict hierarchal order e.g. www.Citydomain.gov/your-department/your-section/your-site-here/.

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Definitions
A site or location on the World Wide Web: Each Web site contains a home page, which is the first document users see when they enter the site. The site might also contain additional documents and files. A single Web site is characterized by one domain name, consistent look and feel and the provision of common navigation tools and elements.

A domain name alias is a domain name that actually points to another website or domain. Often times an alias is used as an alternative form of access to another web site.

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Drivers
Some of the considerations driving this discussion framework document include:

  • Single City brand: elected officials through resolution, and most citizens by survey, have indicated that they consider our brand "the City" as a whole, while many of our departments and some units think of themselves as independent entities with their own identities.
  • Ease of use: branding one central address allows citizens to find desired information without requiring knowledge or understanding of how the City is organized.
  • Direct costs/resources: administering multiple domains drain high demand staff from more productive value added activities. Furthermore, scarce City marketing resources can be maximized by promoting a single City brand.

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Issues and Considerations
The issue for the City is whether departments should be allowed to have their own domain names and/or separate web sites. There are several components of this issue:

  1. Is there a compelling reason to recommend a change to the current policy and if so, what should the change be?
  2. Are there differences in the policy, in particular, as it relates to using aliases?
  3. Are there circumstances for exceptions to the policy? If so, what criteria should be used to define the exceptions, what process should be used for approving them, and what if any conditions be place upon an exempted site?
  4. How should existing exceptions be handled?
  5. Is hosting an issue?

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Analysis

Why Have More Than One Domain?
While a separate policy discussion should occur around these issues, there is a relationship between naming and look, as they both contribute to wholeness or separateness.

The benefit of establishing separate domain names is to provide more visibility and name recognition for the particular program or department. Often these names are shorter, possibly being easier to remember.

In the commercial world, both of these issues relate to "branding" - the creation of an identity. The benefits for a single City domain are that it creates a "City" brand based more on function than on organizational units and marketing resources can be consolidated to brand one site. This approach also gives citizens the greatest assurance that the content they are accessing is legitimate City content.

An individual domain name for a program or department can be simpler to remember. However, it can isolate a citizen if they are seeking information or service from another City service. In addition, finding and remembering multiple names can be confusing.

Finally, it is expected that citizens looking for information about City functions would locate the information via a search engine rather then typing in a domain directly. Thus, if they are not responding to a separate marketing effort publicizing the unique domain name they would have a better chance of finding the information from a single well designed City website.

Existing Domains:
Several City organizations have long standing separate domains. These include seattleaquarium.org, zoo.org, seattlecenter.com, and spl.org. Past justification for these exceptions include: a separate board or governance structure, a retail presence serving a regional audience, or the site is created in partnership with other governments or organizations.

In addition, there are several cases in the city where an alias domain points back to a web site on the City's main web site. When this is done, issues of common look, feel and navigation do not arise. Further, if a site is in existence and has already been through a marketing campaign issues of leveraging marketing dollars cease to exist. These alias domains can be hosted on the City's servers or by third parties. Oftentimes organizations use domain aliases as an alternative form of access to an existing web site.

.COM Versus .ORG or .GOV:
Some City organizations have purchased domains utilizing the .com or commercial suffix. Traditionally, the dot com suffix has been seen as not appropriate for the City's government functions.

Cost Benefit Summary

Options Benefits/Costs
1. One domain name strictly enforced. Benefits - The City would be employing an industry best practice; It creates a "City" brand based more on function than on organizational units and marketing resources can be consolidated to brand one site; and fewer resources are needed for alias administration.
Costs - Departments and programs are unable to establish distinct and independent visibility.
2. Multiple domain names allowed in particular circumstances and with defined design constraints. Benefits - Could provide more visibility and name recognition for the particular program or department; and gain the ability to use addresses that are usually shorter and easier to remember. Ease of use for constituent who is only interested in one City service.
Costs - Higher costs because there are separate marketing efforts; It is more confusing from a Citywide perspective for general users and citizens; and there would be an increased cost to maintain and administer multiple names.
3. Multiple domain names without any restrictions. Benefits - Same as #2, along with the freedom from process and administration from sponsoring organization.
Costs - Inability for general users and citizens to interact across City services. Even higher costs than Option 2 due to separate marketing efforts to maintain and administer multiple names and inability to leverage City resources.

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