Google this week announced the elimination of several search verticals, some of them dating way back to its beginnings. Of particular interest is “Uncle Sam,” which served as a results centre for queries about federal, state and local information (previously at google.com/unclesam).
Google explained to Search Engine Roundtable that this, along with the shuttering of search for Linux, Microsoft, MAC and BSD blogs and forums, was necessary because its one-box search has become so good and comprehensive that there’s no need for the others – essentially they are now redundant.
Enter the U.S. Government — well, the GSA (General Services Administration) anyway, and its effort to bring transparency, new “Gov 2.0” tools, agile methodologies and other non-governmenty things to bear on behalf of our tax dollars. Under GSA there’s been a lot of work related to the so-called “open data” movement and specifically in online search. [Disclosure: I work with a company that provides some of the technical people working on search.]
If you’ve not spent time in the virtual halls of the official U.S. site (and why would you?), this exit by Google is probably a good time to start.
At search.usa.gov anyone can find the expected stuff: forms, schedules, etc. But there’s a new layer there, too, offering friendly one-click access to aggregated results and targeted assets. And it’s kinda modern – no virtual version of grey walls, boxy iron desks… this is all sleek glass and steel. Closer to an iPhone than Tracfone.
Also… No ads.
I wanted to see how the two stood up to one another so I compared results for “Social Security.”
What you’ll find is that indeed Google has a great deal of good information, including the Social Security Administration’s own (presumably tax-payer-funded) SEM ads at the top. There are also ads along the right side of the page – many of which could be perfectly useful of course. Google also offers a list of “Something Different” along the left side. These links include Medicare, Medicaid and… Railroad Retirement.
The Gov’s search site, backed by Microsoft’s Bing, is enhanced by technology from a team of brains well seasoned in search (formerly from AOL, Summize among other consumer-focused places). The Social Security results offer right up top a seemingly curated box of handy links, followed by some of the same results as from Google but absent the clutter of non-government sites and information. There’s also Related Topics and Related Questions and Answers from answers.usa.gov (the government’s own Q&A startup!).
Overall my cursory look reveals that Google’s exit is no real loss for citizens; search.usa.gov handles the the data queries handily, cleanly and thoroughly. In addition, affiliates can grab the site search technology free for their site.
Google’s surely losing no money with this exit, and users of its old Uncle Sam site likewise need not lose out. They can stick with the singular Google search box and probably be satisfied, but moving to search.usa might find them saying “I want you” back.
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