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New Firstgov.gov Search Database Goes Live

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The new Firstgov.gov search that offers access to content from U.S. federal, state, local tribal and territorial sources is now live. You can find access to the clean interface (a single search box) either via a link on the FirstGov.gov home page or by going directly to Firstgovsearch.gov.

An advanced search interface with added functionality is also available along with a Spanish-language version of the interface that offers quick access to material in Espanol.

Back in September we posted that Vivisimo (the company and technology that powers Clusty along with MSN Search had won the government contract to power the new FirstGov search engine.

This blog post has more about the contract itself (including financial arrangements).

The feel, look, and organization of the actual FirstGov portal remains the same. Again, what's new today is FirstGov's search functionality.

What's New, Fast Facts
+ Larger Database
Database grows from about 8 million "government related" pages to 40 million.

+ Dynamic Clustering
Like what you've come to expect from Clusty.

+ Preview Function
Again, a Clusty staple. Click the linked labeled "preview" included in each results "snippet" and view a live version of the result page (not a static image) embedded into the results page.

+ Metasearch from Various U.S. Government Databases
Material comes from not only the open web but from specialty government databases like MyMoney.gov, Forms.gov (government forms), and Fueleconomy.gov.

A Few Minutes with the New FirstGov.gov Search
Within the first couple of searches I quickly noticed the improvements that the new FirstGov.gov search provides.

Of course, that's just my opinion. If you want to run some comparisons between the new Firstgov search and what was previously available, you can still access to the "old" FirstGov engine for the next week or so here. Simply enter a search in the box at the top of the page and you'll be using the "old database." You can access the "old database" by using the "old" advanced interface here.

The NEW Firstgov.gov search offers a plethora of options on results pages. Here's a simple search for the phrase "student loans".

Worth Noticing on the Results Page
+ First result is a guide direct from the Dept. of Education. Btw, most web pages offer cached copies.

+ Which databases are you searching?
Next to the web search totals you'll see a link labeled "Details," click and find what sources were queried and how many results came from each one.

+ Directly below the search box are tabs. You'll find links to ask and answered questions about student loans (great use of the FirstGov FAQ knowledge base), along with tabs to find results from MyMoney.gov and a few student loan related forms from Forms.gov. Of course, these tabs are based on your query. Another query, produced a tab that lists government podcasts.

+ Note the first result for a search for "navy ships" and you should spot a next to the url in the first result that reads "more from the Navy." Clicking this link runs a site specific search of the US Naval Vessel Register web site. You can see the results here. Impressive and a great way to get the searcher to a particularly useful and authoritative site. Remember, an advanced user interface is also available that offers all sorts of search limits.

+ Here's another search, this time for "trade statistics." In this case now tabs are available but numerous clusters appear in the left column. Click on the link and see the new results and/or click on the plus sign (+) and see "sub clusters."

+ Also, at the top of the cluster section notice the tabs that allow you to cluster results by topic (default), government agency (very useful), and source. It would be great if they would also offer a tab that allowed you to quickly see clusters by U.S. State when running a general search.

Again, don't forget that these clusters, tabs, etc. are all produced dynamically for each search. So, what's available for one query might not be available for another.

Overall
A mighty impressive beginning for the new Firstgov.gov search. I'm looking forward to seeing not only what other features they might offer in future releases but also the specialty databases and tools they include in the metasearch portion of the service.

On Dynamic Clustering and Metasearch
We've been impressed with both Vivisimo (for many years) and Clusty since it launched in 2004. Here's a the overview tht Chris and I authored for SearchDay on the day Clusty debuted.

Those of you who read the blog on a regular basis also now that I appreciate the potential of metasearch more and more each day. The same is true with one form or another of dynamic clustering and/or query refinement.

As this paper from Vivisimo puts it, dynamic clustering can help provide "selective ignorance" for web searchers. In other words, it can help get the searcher quickly and with little effort to the best results for their query. For many people the "deep web" is anything beyond the sixth or seventh result on a web results page.

Is dynamic clustering perfect? Is it THE solution? No, not at this point but the tech is improving all of the time and with the proliferation of content happening at such a rapid pace, it potential grows more and more useful. Perhaps the biggest challenge that the new FirstGov.gov faces as well as Clusty and other tools that offer clustering and dynamic query modification is one of training. In other words, letting the average searcher know what clustering can offer and how to best take advantage of it.

A Bit of History
From 2002 until today launch, FirstGov's search capabilities were powered with a database and search technology provided by Fast Search and Transfer and managed by AT&T. At its inception, FirstGov search was powered with technology from Inktomi.


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