Wyatt Kash | A search with depth

Editor's Desk'commentary: USASearch.gov is revolutionizing how government Web sites serve the public.

GCN Editor in Chief Wyatt Kash

GCN

IT'S HARD SOMETIMES ' actually, most of the time ' to get a grip on all the information technology work that the federal government does.

A cursory glance at the mammoth spreadsheet issued by the Office of Management and Budget that lists the thousands of projects, agency by agency, that go into this year's proposed $71 billion IT budget makes that point clear.

Yet a variety of projects demonstrate in their own way the strides the federal government is making in using technology to recast the model for how it can and should better serve the public.

One of those projects is USASearch.gov. Launched three years ago by USA Services, a group in the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Communications, USASearch.gov is a quiet storm that's revolutionizing how government Web sites serve the public.

USASearch.gov is a thoughtfully engineered search engine. It uses Microsoft MSN Search to index designated federal, state, local, tribal and territorial Web sites.

It then uses Vivisimo, a specialty search technology that grew from linguistic science research at Carnegie Mellon University eight years ago, to render the results dynamically into clusters.

If the results were simply featured on USA.gov, the federal government's Web portal, they would be impressive by themselves.

But USA Services has been providing the technology at no cost to federal ' and now state and local ' Web sites, enabling them to deliver much richer search results on their respective sites.

USASearch.gov has more than 200 affiliate sites that collectively return about 4 million search queries a month. The structured search results simplify access to more than 50 million government documents and related resources.

And starting next month, the service is adding a new set of plug-in applications that will let Web managers create spotlight boxes on their search results pages. These widgets will allow agencies to highlight essential resources, including maps, images and FAQs, along with information about government job openings, aid, grants and a growing array of online services.

By making it easier for visitors to find this information, regardless of whether they started at a federal, state or local site, this simple but powerful search tool is effectively unlocking vast stores of government information.

That's what I call tax dollars well spent.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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