Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Senate testimony: Our efforts to better connect citizens to government



Last month we blogged about a big step forward towards making U.S. government more accessible to its citizens: the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's approval of the E-Government Reauthorization Act of 2007, which nudges federal government agencies to make their websites more accessible to search engine crawlers. Today, J.L. Needham, who leads Google's work with federal agencies to help Google's crawlers find their web content, is testifying before the committee about Google's work in this area (read his complete testimony here).

While search engines have made connecting to online government resources easier in recent years, certain barriers can still get in citizens' way. "The most common barrier is the search form for a database that asks users to input several fields of information to find what they’re looking for," J.L. will say in his testimony. "Our crawlers cannot effectively follow the links to reach behind the search form."

In 2005, Google introduced the Sitemap Protocol, an open standard for web sites that allows search engines to readily identify the location of all pages on the site, including database records lying behind a search form. The standard has been embraced by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Ask.com and others. As a result, any government site using this standard can reach Americans through all major search engines.

J.L. will also share Sitemaps success stories, noting that "the Department of Energy’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information operates a large database that makes research and development findings available to the public. OSTI developed a Sitemap for its Energy Citations and Information Bridge services in just 12 hours, opening up 2.3 million bibliographic records and full-text documents to crawling by search engines. After its implementation of Sitemaps, OSTI saw a dramatic increase in traffic to its services..."

Our testimony before the Senate coincides with the release of a new report today by the Center for Democracy and Technology and OMB Watch that lists some of the most frustrating federal government-related web searches. This morning's Washington Post has a preview, and we're sure the CDT report will be a topic of conversation at today's hearing.

We hope to post video of J.L.'s testimony later today. Stay tuned.

UPDATE (9:07 p.m.): Here's the video:

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