The search is on

GCN Insider | Trends & technologies that affect the way government does IT

Now that Google Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., has launched its own government search site (, the question arises: Should you use Google's site or the General Services Administration's to fulfill all your querying needs?

As far as search goes, the two seem very similar. They both use indexes from commercial search engines that scan material mostly found on the Web. FirstGov uses the MSN search from Microsoft Corp., while Google U.S. Government Search draws from that company's own index of .gov, .us., .mil, and selected .org, .com and .edu sites.

In an unscientific comparison, we entered the government-centric term 'FISMA' on both sites. FirstGov returned about 102 hits, and Google found 993, not including links to FISMA-related advertisements that peppered each page. (Of course, Google claimed to have found 53,000 hits, but those numbers are always a fib ... err ... rough estimate.) Both engines placed the truly essential sites near the top of the pile, though FirstGov's tended to miss the more ancillary sites. Do you need to know about the FISMA resources available from the Information Resources Management College? If so, Google's your tool.

One putative advantage of FirstGov is that it aggregates results into easily perusable groups, using clustering software from Vivisimo Inc. of Pittsburgh. Such aggregations, which are generated on the fly using frequently used phrases in the documents, may or may not be useful. Our FISMA search generated topics such as 'Information Security Management Act,' which is indeed what FISMA stands for, and 'Yet It Continues To Face,' which says more about the Government Accountability Office's limited prose than anything about FISMA itself.

While Google doesn't cluster, it does offer the ability to customize your search page with weather reports and news feeds. FirstGov doesn't offer personalization, although it has a directory of sites covering topics that are dear to feds' hearts, such as budget and contracting, and benefits and pay.

The winner in the search race between FirstGov and Google? The users, of course. Two search engines are better than one.

About the Author

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


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