Figure 1:Typical FirstGov.gov Search Process6
The development of a government-wide portal on the Internet has been enabled by the dynamic convergence of a range of information technologies. The Internet itself is both a cause and an effect here. As use of the Internet grows, more use will occur-a "network effect."7 As more and more people get online, the value of being online increases to each individual user. More recent developments in wireless networks are a major contributor to the diffusion of the Internet. Intranets and extranets take advantage of Internet technology to create additional communication and commerce tools within and between organizations. Digitalization is leading to new products and information redesign, while the creation of network appliances will connect the more prosaic household accoutrements such as the television, dishwasher, or light switch to the Internet and add information or service value to these appliances. Technology can enable inherently governmental processes such as taxation or voting to be embedded in the tools and rituals of daily life.
The search engine technology for FirstGov.gov was donated by Inktomi. Inktomi was founded in 1996 by Dr. Eric Brewer, an Internet pioneer who created a seminal caching and search technology that today, powers large public Web sites, such as AOL. Inktomi, headquartered in the United States and Europe, is publicly traded on Nasdaq. While the company was initially known for the powerful search engine it markets, Inktomi has diversified and today offers network caching services, content distribution venues, media publishing and broadcasting, and enterprise and Web search technologies. Its search engine, a "back-end" product for portals and user interfaces, enables the end-user to conduct a wide range of searches, including those from a high-volume Web-wide approach, to specially customized site/sector-specific queries. The technology used is a turnkey type, and it enables end-users to search for media and document files. Inktomi customers have two options for using the search technology: the client can run the search engine alone, using Inktomi software, or the client can have Inktomi set up, host and administer the site.
The search engine makes use of natural language processing technology to enable a more conversation-like search for the end-users. They can create searches based on words or word-phrases they wish to find. The advanced features of the search engine also support search parameters such as words located in titles, truncation of words, content limits, and page depth searches. The Inktomi search engine also offers the capability to search using Boolean operators and metawords-features which improve the quality of the search.8
The FirstGov.gov portal, when initially launched, contain more than 47 million pages of government information, indexed by subject, not by agency. Using the Inktomi search engine, every word of every document in the database is searched in less than a quarter of a second. The portal has a topical index, links to other levels and branches of government, and the ability to conduct online transactions. Today (December, 2001) FirstGov.gov contains information and services from more than 22,000 federal websites containing more than 35 million pages of information, services, and transactions. First Gov.gov also accesses an additional 16 million pages from the Internet portals of all 50 states and the District of Columbia
From Testimony of David McClure, Director Information Technology Management, U.S. General Accounting Office. To the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology. October 2, 2000.
Shapiro, C; and Varian, H. Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy; Harvard Business School Press: Boston, 1998; 184.