FirstGov, the federal portal, will take a big leap into the 21st century soon. The General Services Administration has chosen Vivisimo, makers of the Clusty.com search engine, and Microsoft MSN Search to revamp the website's search functions, Federal Computer Week reports. Vivisimo's search technology clusters results into groupings that can be more helpful than a straight list. For instance a search for "government + computers" on Clusty.com yields not only a list of top results but also a list of topic hits, for instance, security, government computer systems, law, programming, etc. Drilling down into any one of those topics would yield more groupings. Under security, for instance, privacy, federal government, FBI, etc.
The move is a great step towards bringing government services into the realm of what the rest of the world is doing.
"Since we first awarded that [Fast Search] contract in 2002, search has changed a lot," said M.J. Pizzella, associate administrator of GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Communications, which oversees FirstGov. "We try to stay on the cutting edge as best we can, considering the restraints on government with budgets."
Vivisimo, Microsoft, Fast Search and Gigablast are among the companies chosen to work on FirstGov over the next five years under a blanket purchase agreement. The agreement allows FirstGov to move quickly between the different vendors chosen at the outset.
"Next year, when the renewal date comes up, we could have the option to look at any other company that is under the BPA," Pizzella said. "This technology is moving so fast that if you lock yourself in, you can't move as fast as technology."
Pizzella said the government "is often woefully behind technology. Hopefully, this will allow the government to move in real time with the pace of technology."
Vivisimo is the prime contractor under the agreement, which is perhaps only natural since the underlying technology was first funded by a National Science Administraton grant and the company has worked with defense and energy agencies and the Social Security Administration. Interestingly Vivisimo says while they talked to all search companies (inluding Google), Microsoft was"very flexible and accommodating to the needs of FirstGov, blending their Microsoft search results with other search results, [as part of metasearch] and clustering."