Web searchers lead off with agency sites

Government IT managers hoping for home runs when they seek federal, state and local government information and services on the Web rely mostly on agency Web sites and all-purpose commercial search engines, a GCN telephone survey found.

They put the General Services Administration's FirstGov portal third in the batting order.
About 68 percent of government managers said they used individual agency Web sites to find government data, followed by commercial search services such as Yahoo and Google (54 percent) and FirstGov (34 percent).

Other search services in the managers' lineup were Google.com/unclesam (32 percent), FedWorld.gov (17 percent), Info.gov (15 percent) and Thomas (13 percent).

For those managers in the survey sample who use FirstGov, visits to the portal are sporadic. Only 21 percent said they log on several times a week or more.

For the rest, it's a few times a month (30 percent) or once in a blue moon (49 percent).

GSA's FirstGov has had to ride out some rough patches on the way to improvement in design and functionality since it was launched two years ago.

Earlier this month, after a delay of several months, FirstGov officials brought a new search engine online to make searches faster and more accurate.

Before that, in late February, they unveiled a major site redesign, giving the user interface a new look and consolidating navigable paths into three gateways: citizen-to-government, business-to-government and government-to-government. In addition, the site was revamped to let users find the information or services they were looking for within three mouse clicks.

Most like FirstGov

Just over a third of managers said they visit FirstGov, and most of those who do (82 percent) said the portal is helpful and effective.

When our survey was conducted in early March, just a couple of weeks after the redesign, only 33 percent of FirstGov users had seen the revamped site.

One satisfied customer of the portal was an Air Force network administrator in Frederick, Md., who told us he combines FirstGov, commercial search engines and agency Web sites when hunting for government data.

He visits FirstGov at least several times a week and finds the revamped portal more user-friendly and faster than before'as did 55 percent of FirstGov users who had logged on after the redesign went live.

Slightly more than a quarter of FirstGov users were more circumspect in their assessments of the redesigned site, regarding it only as somewhat improved.

Among those was an information and communications services manager for Otero County, N.M., who visits FirstGov a couple of times a month on average; he thought the site was modestly better.

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