Since January 20, 1993, the Clinton administration has distributed, press releases, executive orders, transcripts of speeches, press briefings and other presidential documents in electronic form over the Internet. In addition, the public is currently sending email messages to the President, Vice-President and some other government officials, at addresses on the Internet. These communication flows between government and public arguably represent an early stage in the development of an online public space for multi-faceted political discourse. Some observers have already raised questions regarding control, access, privacy and influence in this public space. These issues and the need to plan facilities that will support the electronic flows underscore the value of data which helps dimensionalize this space and tells who gets the electronic documents, how they get them and how they use them.
At the end of January, 1994, we sought such data, using a recently developed form processing technology, suitable for the management and analysis of online interactive, branching, multi-part surveys. Initial survey instruments were distributed directly to current and past subscribers of certain mailing lists and posted on certain servers, with instructions to return the surveys within a week. By the end of that period, about 1600 individuals had returned this instrument and 1100 of them had also completed their respective follow up surveys. This report describes our survey methodology and data analysis, presents our principal findings, discusses their implications and outlines future work plans.
Our survey was informed by some knowledge of the document distribution and recipients. It grew out of the Intelligent Information Infrastructure Project at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, whose work includes the development of knowledge based routing systems and their application to managing information flows between government and public. One prototype system in current operation segments the White House electronic publication stream into five content oriented mailing lists. Having more than 4000 active subscribers, including embedded mailing-lists, FTP servers, gophers, commercial information networks, bulletin boards and news groups, the system directly or indirectly accounts for much of the electronic public distribution of White House documents. Project members also maintain close working relations with other distributors of White House publications, notably the Extension Service of the US Dept. of Agriculture and Sunsite at the University of North Carolina.