New, improved up and running

After nearly five years of defending's search engine prowess against constant criticism, General Services Administration officials believe they have an engine that will quiet detractors.

GSA officially launched's new search engine powered by Vivisimo Inc.'s clustering technology and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN search tool yesterday?nearly three months ahead of schedule.

"When FirstGov got started we crawled, but as more and more agencies put information on the Web, we had to provide more service, and we had to scale to manage this," said Mary Joy Pizzella, associate administrator of GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Communications. "The contract to change search providers wasn't due to run out until this year, but my staff convinced me that there was technology that we needed to take advantage of."

GSA in September awarded Vivisimo of Pittsburgh a one-year task order worth $1.8 million for installation and operation of the new search engine. Microsoft is a subcontractor to Vivisimo.

The task order is a part of a five-year, $18 million blanket purchase agreement GSA set up with three companies, including Gigablast Inc. of Albuquerque, N.M., and Fast Search and Transfer, a company based in Norway with its U.S. headquarters in Needham, Mass., to compete search services annually.

Users of now can search about 40 million federal, state and local government pages, as well as tribal and other government Web sites. This is an increase of 32 million pages over the previous search engine run by FAST, Pizzella said. GSA received about 27 million search requests and 180 million unique page views in 2005.

Using Vivisimo's search tool and MSN technology, visitors also will receive improved search results, including links to Portable Document Format forms, podcasts of President Bush's speeches or comments on specific topics, and links to frequently asked questions that are ranked by user needs.

Vivisimo also includes a new feature that lets users preview the Web page link before actually leaving The preview box appears in the list of result links, which lets the user decide how worthwhile the responses are.

GSA is the first government or commercial user of Microsoft's search tool, said Richard Young, the company's chief technology architect in the eGovernment industry unit.

GSA also plans on rolling out a government news and images search and refreshing the look of the site in the fall, Pizzella said.

"We will pull more information from agencies because the search engine will index information, including podcasts and forms more easily," Pizzella said.

Jason Miller is assistant managing editor of Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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