GUEST POST: The first man who had the idea to use the internet in local government

Once, there was no internet and no web communications. Andy Mabbett remembers the day when he suggested maybe the sector to use it. It’s a snapshot in history.

Twenty-five years ago on May 14 1996, I gave a talk at the Society of Public Information Networks’ conference, on ‘The Internet as a marketing tool for local authorities’ – because back then, having a website was a novel thing and most people, at least in local government didn’t know why they’d want one, nor how to do it.

Despite the title of the talk’s focus on ‘Marketing’, I also spoke about online service delivery: you could use the site to report faulty streetlights or potholes. This was long before the excellent FixMyStreet – I wonder if we inspired them?

Andy Mabbett Economic Development Officer Birmingham City Council.

Andy is Manager, ASSIST Project with Birmingham City Council’s
Economic Development Department, involved in a number of interrelated
Telematics development projects. These include Training For
Teleworkers, Domestic Interactive Television, support for SMEs and,
chiefly, ASSIST, Birmingham’s Presence on the WWW. The presentation
will include an online demonstration of ASSIST

Doing that was so novel that it attracted coverage in the national press. In the early days of that particular feature, until the highways’ team had their request for email access accepted, I recall printing out reports and popping them into the internal post.

We didn’t even have a CMS to begin with. The site was hosted by Bob Hendley and his able team in the Computer Studies department at the University of Birmingham. I would take them council leaflets to be scanned and transcribed into HTML!

We launched the site in late summer 1994. More recently, I was contacted by a historian who assured me that he could find no earlier example of a local council having a website. Globally.

I recall that we had colleagues from councils in Liverpool, Gloucester and elsewhere, who made the physical journey to Birmingham to ask us about how we ran the site and to decide whether they should do something similar.

We had great fun, and a free hand to try out new things – some of which are now commonplace, and some best not mentioned. Modern website management is very different; we shall not see days like those again.

Andy Mabbett is a Wikimedian in residence and freelance Wikimedian.

Picture credits: computer Gordon Brandly / Flickr.

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