Users can customize new Web site

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AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine’s state Web site has a new look.

A redesign formally unveiled Monday includes a new standard header that will give the various sites connected to state government more uniformity.

It’s also set up to be much more interactive. Users can compose the site so certain features, such as links to other sites, are easily accessible in bookmark fashion.

Users can arrange to have news releases, weather forecasts or even lottery information e-mailed to them, and contractors can arrange to have requests for state bids automatically e-mailed.

InforME, which maintains the state’s site, also built in a centralized location for storm bulletins, security, health and safety alerts. Users can sign up to receive alerts by e-mail and their cell phones.

Another new feature is an information service called “Ask a Librarian,” through which a user can e-mail a question pertaining to the state.

Demonstrating the system in Gov. John Baldacci’s office, Carrie Gott of InforME keyed in a query asking how long Maine’s coast is, triggering an alarm in InforME offices in Augusta. Within a few minutes, the response flashed back: 3,500 miles.

Since Maine’s Web site first appeared in 2000, use has increased by 700 percent to the current level of 500,000 hits per month.

The site has been cited as one of the best for new offerings, delivery of services and convenience by the Center for Digital Government, an e-government think tank.

InforME, which was created by the Legislature to connect Mainers with their government through a self-funded Internet portal, has monitored users and their needs to tweak and expand the Maine.gov site, said Gott.

“We understand who all of the users are now,” said Gott, who described the latest site as “much cleaner.”

One of Baldacci’s first orders after taking office in January was to improve public access to state government through Maine’s Web site.

One of InforME’s first responses was a Budget Balancing educational site on which users could enter their own recommendations for spending and taxes and try to balance the two-year budget, which was then facing a $1.2 billion shortfall.

“It mostly helped to educate Maine people on how dire the budget situation was,” said Baldacci spokesman Lee Umphrey. But administration officials did look seriously at some of the moneysaving suggestions sent in by users, he said.

The latest design, which first appeared June 30, “is pushing information and services to the user,” said Gott.

New services being offered include a limited criminal history search, business answers and multiple annual report filings. The redesign appeared June 30th.

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