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Early signs point to growing use of tools to reach voters directly

The state government has been slowly limping ahead to tap into social networking as a way to more directly reach New Yorkers, but a new governor and a recent deal between the nation's 50 states and the largest social network site will prod Albany to the expanding electronic form of communication.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been vowing to use all necessary means to not just inform the electorate but to move them to his side in disputes with the Legislature. He talked even before entering office last month of using new ways to get information unfiltered to New Yorkers -- bypassing, at times, the news media.

"The governor has said he is going to use new and innovative ways to communicate with New Yorkers and bring the people back in to government, and social media will be an important part of that effort," said Josh Vlasto, a Cuomo spokesman.

The signs of a governor using the Internet were there from the start: He first announced his run for governor last spring in a video posted on his campaign website several hours before his public kick-off speech.

Officials have boasted of collecting large numbers of e-mail addresses from supporters during Cuomo's campaign, which they likely will use to rally allies in such things as fights with the Legislature over the budget.

The electronic reach-outs have taken a varied approach so far by Cuomo. He has begun weekly speeches streamed to students at their schools around the state. He has begun a website -- with a .com instead of .gov address -- to get comments from people about "reforming" Albany. To participate, people must give their names and home and e-mail addresses. A similar device is being used by a state panel looking to redesign the Medicaid insurance program to help reduce the state's deficit.

The governor's office also regularly uses Facebook and Twitter, though the offerings are so far fairly routine, such as providing links to press releases. The administration also uses the social media outlets to post photographs of the new governor at various events shot by a photographer on the state payroll.

If the comments from readers are any indication, the results of Cuomo's social networking outreach are mixed. "Good work Andrew," one posting said.

But there were also healthy doses of skepticism and complaints posted in the early weeks. On Cuomo's Facebook page, one person complained of having to wait in the cold for his recent speech in Jamestown before being shuffled into a basement to watch the speech on a TV with broken audio. Another openly wondered why the state was paying for Cuomo to travel for a speech essentially redoing his State of the State message.

Just as businesses have learned with their social networking, Cuomo's Facebook page is hardly all cheering. One person said he and his wife are ready to leave the state. "If you want people like us to stay, please show us," the writer said.

A statement that the Medicaid redesign panel is serving without pay prompted one writer to wonder why its members would serve "out of kindness." The panel has a heavy presence by health care executives and union officials.

Of the two houses, the Republican-led Senate has the more active social networking presence -- though the GOP can thank the Democrats, who briefly led the chamber the past two years, for beefing up the Web reach-out operation.

The Senate does the usual, like press releases, but also the homey approach, such as announcing the name of a constituent who had earned the rank of Eagle Scout. The Senate has also developed applications to be used on devices like smart phones for information about everything from legislation to contacts in the chamber.

But the Senate site certainly hasn't gone viral with popularity, raising questions about just how connected the majority of New Yorkers want to be with their legislative representatives.

In the first two weeks after Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos posted a welcome video on the Senate's Facebook page, there had been only 160 viewings -- and no comments were posted.

The use by state agencies of Facebook is expected to explode, especially as the public demands more and more transparency of their governments and quicker access to everything from data about the schools their children attend to how their taxes are spent.

Earlier this month, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and the National Association of Attorneys General announced a deal over legal issues with Facebook.

The agreement addressed a legal dispute over Facebook's terms of service, which the social networking giant resolved two years ago with the federal government that helped expand Washington's presence on the site. The deal got rid of a Facebook requirement that legal disputes had to be resolved in California under that state's laws. It does require that a public agency prominently post on its Facebook page a link to its official website.

"We believe this will allow broader and more appropriate use of this important tool by state governments across the country," said Kyle Schafer, NASCIO president and chief technology officer in West Virginia, in announcing the deal with Facebook.