Google launched its search engine for US government information, informally known as Google Uncle Sam, many years ago. It's been running since at least 1999. But now the service has received an update giving it a personalized home page and formal branding as Google US Government Search.
By default, the new home page shows the weather in Washington DC (outlook: political infighting, with mudslinging later in the week) and headlines from the US White House, top government stories out of Google News (though a concocted query string), Washington Post headlines, headlines from the American Forces Information Services and headlines from Government Executive magazine.
As before, you can search and have results come back just from US government web sites, along with state and local government sites in the United States. Google's help page explains more. Try net neutrality on Google US government search, and you'll see how compared to a regular Google search, listings disappear from Wikipedia, political groups supporting net neutrality, news organizations reporting on the issue and other sources. Instead, it's just information published on government web servers in the US. And that's a good thing, for those who just want to home in on official government materials.
There's at least one glitch. The search result pages still show the old red, white & blue Google American Flag-styled logo on the government search site, and clicking on the logo takes you back to regular Google rather than the government search home page.
Already have a personalized home page? One nice thing is that you can personalize the US government search page independently of your other page. However, searches on the US government search site do flow into your main search history, if you have the feature enabled.
The relaunch comes on the heels of Google political moves last week. Google tried a last-minute lobbying attempt for net neutrality by cofounder Sergey Brin and an effort to rally Google users to lobby for net neutrality plus harvest their names for future political pushes.
It's hard not to see the updated US government search service as a way to attract government workers and insiders to a place where Google can influence them. Google ultimately controls the personalized home page and can choose to insert material on it any time it wants. That's a powerful tool if many people involved with the government start tuning into the page.
Certainly giving the Washington Post an exclusive on breaking the news helps fuel the idea that Google's doing a push along these lines. The Post is the only media outlet to have been prebriefed on the release, that I can tell. That helps ensure the story gets good play, plus causes competing print media outlets to give the story a second day of coverage doing catch-up stories. Of course, the Post also gets prime space on the new site, as well. That probably won't please some competing political news publications, though anyone can add anything to that page manually.
By the way, to add material, look for the Add Content link in the top left-hand side of the page. Opening that allows you to add the URL of any publication producing an RSS feed with content, or you can also search for matching sites of interest. Google also looks to have added a new Government category of recommended selections, which offer a range of official sources. See also the help page for more on personalization.
Google to Launch Government Search Site is the Washington Post's story on the launch, with Google quotes on seeking to serve government employees and average citizens better with it. The story also list competing government search engines, including the official one at FirstGov.gov. That's powered by Microsoft. We covered this recently here: New Firstgov.gov Search Database Goes Live.
By the way, let's clear up some URL confusion:
/ usgov.google.com is the main URL for the new site.
also works. It's where the official URL redirects people to.
- http://www.google.com/unclesam is the address of the old service, which is still live and works just like the new service, but without the personalized components. You also find it still listed on Google's special searches page. I expect Google will eventually redirect this URL to the new service when they realize it's still live.
Postscript: Google now has a press release on the launch up here, though it is fairly sparse. The Google Blog also has a short post here. And Google tells me the Washington Post was the only major daily/wire outlet prebriefed, though some small government trade publications also got info.