Google launches federal search engine

Google Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., has launched a search site devoted to finding government material on the Web.

Although Google U.S. Government Search offers an almost identical service to the General Services Administration's FirstGov, Google's site will offer more personalization features, said Kevin Gough, product manager for the new offering.

Gough said Google's site was designed for both government employees as well as citizens interested in government material. Using the company's own index of Web sites, the site will return results from .gov and .mil federal sites, state and local Web sites, selected .org and .edu sites, and government sites under the .com and .net domains, such as the Postal Service's site.

Individuals can personalize their pages to display headlines from feeds that use the Real Simple Syndication, or RSS, format. The site offers a list of agency feeds, such as those from the White House, as well as feeds from commercial news sites that cover government. Users can also add their own feeds.

GSA launched the latest version of FirstGov in January. That system uses the public search engine from Microsoft Corp. along with clustering software from Vivisimo Inc. of Pittsburgh. In addition to a basic listing of search results, FirstGov also groups findings by agency, source and a set of topic headings that are generated by the system on the fly.

Google's service will not offer this sort of clustering capability, Gough admitted. Nor can users filter results so that they include only federal sites. They can, however, limit the results to specific Web sites, such as usda.gov, which was not possible using Google's previous government site, Google Uncle Sam. That site should be closed within a few weeks and users will be automatically redirected to the new site, Gough said.

Google's service will also not offer a great deal of insight into the material locked into the sort of publicly available databases that must be queried with strict syntaxes, the kind of databases well covered by Science.Gov. Gough did note, however, that the company is encouraging managers of such databases to use Google's tools for indexing such sites, so that they can be accessible through Google.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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