Google recently announced that they’ve launched a new site for government search. When I heard that my first thought was hey, didn’t they do that several years ago? Oh yeah! It was UncleSam, and it was available at http://www.google.com/unclesam .. but apparently that URL doesn’t exist anymore. Well, no matter. This new version not only offers searching mechanisms but personalized homepage modules, so let’s go explore. Google’s new government search is at http://usgov.google.com.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the front page is a lot like Google’s personalized home page. Only here you can put modules on your front page like White House press releases, the weather in Washington DC, and a feed from the Armed Forces Information Services. The site’s FAQ is available here; instead of offering searching across just .gov and .mil sites, as UncleSam did, this FAQ describes Google U.S. Government Search as searching “across U.S. federal, state and local government sites with domains such as .gov, .mil, and other select ones.”
I did a search for disability calculation and got about 791,000 results, about a tenth as many as running a general Google search. Domains on the first page of results spanned socialsecurity.gov, several state sites, and military sites. This is a place where sliders would come in really handy, to weigh your results more to state or federal sites, to military or civilian sites. There’s no way to easily sort from the results page, either (state sites first, fed sites first, etc.)
I went to the advanced search to see what kind of ways I could narrow down my search. I found the usual — domain, file format, language, usage rights (usage rights? When did that happen? I must have missed that.) Unfortunately I think Google missed an opportunity to add more value to their advanced search; I would have loved the opportunity to, say, limit results by state, or weigh results from military results higher than civilian results, or limit results only to pages from federal sites. And so on. The advanced search is not very different from the regular Web search advanced search and doesn’t add much value to the uniqueness of the government search content. One more annoyance: go to the government search page and run a search. Then click on the big red-white-and-blue Google logo. Do you go back to the government search home page? No! You go back to Google’s regular Web search page. Wubba?
I like the government-oriented home page possibilities, but there’s just so much more that could have been done with the search elements. I’m disappointed.