Googling state government documents

The search giant helps four states get online data indexed and helps create custom search engines for government Web sites.
Written by Elinor Mills, Contributor
Google is set to announce Monday that it is working with officials in four U.S. states to make sure all the public information they have online is easily accessible through the company's search engine.

As part of a voluntary public-private sector partnership, Google has been helping technology managers in Arizona, California, Utah and Virginia remove technical barriers that prevent the search giant from adding information to its index. Some state government documents are hidden behind design elements of the Web site or, more commonly, in a database that a search engine's crawlers can't access, said J.L. Needham, manager of public sector content partnerships at Google.

Thus, job seekers in Utah can now search on Google to find job postings provided by the state's Department of Workforce Services. Virginia students interested in the state's colonial history can now use Google to access information at the Library of Virginia state archives. In Arizona, home buyers can find information about licensed agents through the Department of Real Estate.

"We've opened up specific 'long tail'-type of documents on these state agency Web sites that up until now were not visible, but are now flowing into Google in the hundreds of thousands," Needham said. "We're creating a back door so we can copy all the pages and make the URLs part of our index so a user can find the result, click a link and be in that database."

Google also is working with officials in Utah and Virginia to help create Custom Search Engines for those government Web sites. Google takes a subset of its index related to specific "vertical" searches or specific types of content. Google hosts the search. Custom Search Engines allow people to sort for information by codes and regulation or multimedia, Needham said. For example, someone could search for information about a specific geographic region through a Custom Search Engine on Utah's Web site and find data from all levels of government, he said.

Most state governments need all the help they can get when it comes to the Internet, said Darryl West, a political science professor at Brown University, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy and author of Digital Government.

"There is a wide variation in (state) Web sites," he said. "Some states need to come into the 21st century."

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