Whenever I have to do a search on a government Web site, whether it’s local, state, or federal, I almost always end up making the same noise: “Gghhhhhhhhhhh.” That’s the noise of getting eight zillion documents filled with legal- and bureaucracy-ese and having to figure out yet another set of search terms.
I have never had occasion, thank goodness, to try to tackle the IRS.gov search engine. And now there’s a CPA who’s taken on the task of tackling it himself. Brian Dooley last month launched IRS.gov Wizard at http://irswizard.net. On the opening page he describes the search engine this way: ” This web site searches the IRS’s web site for you. More than 400,000 documents totaling more than 4,000,000 pages…. Smarter because with my knowledge of tax law, the search engine uses my thesaurus of tax jargon….Easier because you do not need to know anything about taxes (because my search engine has been taught tax law by me).”
There are actually several different ways you can search the site. You can do a basic keyword/topic search. You can search for two keywords. Or you can include two keywords and exclude one. For each search you can specify that you’re searching for information related to individuals, businesses, non-profits, etc. I did a quick business search for vehicle mileage.
The search results — well, I understand why he decided to do this but they’re kind of unwieldy. The results page has a horizontal frame across the middle. His search results at the top, IRS documents at the bottom.
The first result I got for the search was a very easy-to-read document that told me the 2008 vehicle mileage rates. Which is great but it’s 2009. I tried to add 2009 to my search but that actually made the results a lot worse. These results were somewhat better than the results at IRS.gov, which I found way too general. The rest of the search results were okay except there was a lot of repetition. For example, I got several iterations of 2106-EZ over a period of several years.
IRS Wizard would be helped a lot by the ability to filter based on date. I ran a Google search for vehicle mileage intitle:2009 site:irs.gov and vehicle mileage deductions for 2009 popped right up. (Strangely, it was a press release and not part of a tax instruction.) Perhaps IRS Wizard could assume that all queries were for current year, unless told otherwise, and search appropriately.
And if I were queen of the world, or at least the IRS, I would mandate that every single page on the IRS Web site have a date in the title. At least a year. And if there were some odd page that had evergreen information I would have a code for that state too. And every time I had information to announce — information that changed every year — I would announce it in the same pattern so it would be easy to find year after year.
But I’m not queen of the IRS. Mr. Dooley’s search engine found me a lot of data but it’s a bit hampered by its finding the same page over and over again in several different versions, and sometimes there’s not enough context. It would be interesting if in addition to the IRS search, IRS Wizard could run a Google search of the users query and include the modifiers irs.gov site:wikipedia.org. Doing that could bring topical information that might help the user formulate a better query. (Running irs.gov vehicle mileage site:wikipedia.org got me all kinds of results that I could add to an IRS.gov search.)