January 31, 2007

Government-specific search fails to impress

According to Steven Arnold, FirstGov – which has been renamed USASearch.gov — is by far the most effective US government-specific search engine. But there’s something odd about it; whatever the query, it’s determined to give no more than a little over 100 results. Queries for which I’ve noted results in this quantity range include Bush (and this covers all family members), Cheney (ditto), Kennedy (ditto), Condaleeza, Scalia, Coolidge, Red Sox, big dig, Burlingame, Redmond, Pluto, ethanol, spotted owl, and topology. The only ones I’ve found so far coming out above that results range – perhaps inevitably 😉 — are death (137) and taxes (177).

Only when I forced the issue with really narrow terms did I get fewer results – e.g., drosophila (95), cichlid (82), Haluk Ozkaynak (Linda’s good-guy ex-husband – 80), or cohomology (53). Wait. Let me amend that; Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky only rates 43 hits, less than our dorm mate Patricia Buckles (105).*

*Come to think of it, the last time I saw either of those ladies was on a visit to Washington in 1981, when I stayed at Patty’s apartment and got an after-hours White House tour from Paula. I regret falling out of touch with both of them, especially Patty, who was a dear friend. But I digress …

Whatever the peculiarity in its level of recall, USASearch at least seems to do a good job at giving relevant results first (e.g., official bio pages of people). The same can’t be said of Convera’s Govmine, even when a search is restricted to .gov pages only. That site still needs a lot of work.


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