(I) have developed a kind of mental hierarchy of websites endorsed by owner, operator, government agency, local authority etc.........I'd be interested in your thoughts
Whilst "categorisation" is a useful approach to understanding the World, another way of looking at things is in terms of "continua" along various dimensions of separable but interacting variables – with many points along these being feasible, resulting in a multi dimensional model. If we "unpack" what we might mean by "Official Web site" I see 3 significant dimensions to the issue
a. The body responsible for creating/maintaining the site.
b. The "specificity" of the site to the WHS
c. The accuracy/comprehensiveness of the site
Within these there is an enormous range of possibilities. At one extreme there can be a government department which has, as part of its overall Web site, a single page which covers all the WHS in the Country -"Offical" yes, but hardly very "specific" or comprehensive! And at the other there can be a highly knowledgeable and committed individual who has created and is maintaining a comprehensive Web site solely and specifically concerned with a single WHS without any government assistance or even knowledge – totally "unofficial" but incredibly useful!
We presumably started this exercise because of an implied belief that "Official" sites were "worth" highlighting more than "unofficial" sites in that they were more likely to be up-to-date, correct, complete, free of adverts etc etc. We didn't define "official" but, perhaps started off assuming it would mean "Governmental" at some level.
"Governmental" encompasses a very wide range of organisational models. Some "Western" countries like to set up units at arms length from government to look after, publicise etc their WHS. Many of these fit within the description "Government endorsed" used by Euloroo but, strictly, are not "part" of Government. In other countries Governments "run" (or attempt to!!!) almost everything – so, in Ethiopia for instance, the Tourist Board and Ethiopian Airlines are both arms of Government. So, a web site run by Ethiopian airlines could be described as "official" in a way in which a Web site run by British Airways could not!!
UNESCO seems to prefer WHS which are "run" by Government or are at least tightly controlled legally by it, but it is perfectly possible for a totally non-Governmental organisation to be involved in running/publicising a WHS. Blenheim Palace, for instance, is privately owned – as is its "official" Web site. Many WHS are multi-owned sites such that any Web site about the WHS must either be government run (local or national) or must be the responsibility of some "grouping" of individuals with an "interest" in the WHS – whether in "running" it, coordinating it or in publicising it or all of these. In some countries tourist promotion organisations are often likely to be, in effect, private trade bodies, whereas, in others they may be a unit of the Municipal government. Are we suggesting that a site run by the latter is more useful/worthy than one run by the former? As far as I could discover, all the worthwhile sites relating to WHS in Namibia were run by groups of tour and lodge providers – and excellent they are too – but not "Official"?? In Ethiopia, on the other hand, the government has set up a series of pages for its WHS – some of which are "empty" and others completely incorrect (It had "Lower Awash" in the wrong place!!). The Gambian Government Web site hasn't even got round to recognising yet that the Stone circles are a WHS. For most African WHS my starting point for information would always be http://www.africanworldheritagesites.org/.
This is the "private initiative of British-born conservationist, author and photographer Dr Peter Howard"
– I have not (as yet!) discovered any inaccuracies and it has even already been updated for e.g The Lakes of Ounianga. The "Cloud" is full of government Web sites which start with grand hopes but quickly dribble into nothingness or inaccuracy as the money and the skills run out!
On a different dimension "Official" implies that the Web site is solely concerned with a specific "World Heritage site" and, possibly, even has that site's name in its Web address. The reality is of course that organisations can operate with single Web pages each devoted to a single WHS within their overall Web site rather than having separate Web sites - National Parks Authorities are a classic example. But what if the NP Authority has chosen to have a series of pages about multiple WHS which "happen" to cross Web page boundaries? They may not have separate page addresses but can still be searched upon – and may (or may not!) contain useful information. Does this exclude them from being considered "Official"? Similarly a municipally run information site might well cover many aspects of its locality – are we saying that the section on its WHS could only be considered "official" if it has a separate page address?
Which takes us to my third dimension – comprehensiveness and accuracy. I guess that what we want from an "official" site includes correct entrance times/fees, directions, how to get there on public transport, visiting information, reasonable descriptions and photos. Experience of this exercise certainly shows that sites run by government or government-sponsored organisations are likely to contain such information – but certainly not always and the Web sites of privately run "tourist" organisations are often the best source of such information!!
I fear that the reality is that any over-rigid attempt to define/categorise "Official" is doomed to failure at any practical or logical level. That said, this exercise has been (and continues to be) useful and interesting in
a. Identifying additional Web sites concerned with specific WHS
b. Identifying the wide range of "models" and outcomes which exist around the World for running and publicising WHS.