In Washington, George knows best
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Mar 04, 2001
Washington's Ask George search page
Want to know how to renew your driver's license in Washington state? Ask
George. Need to reserve a camping area, but don't know how? Ask George.
Want to know who your state legislator is? Well, George knows that too.
From the architects of Ask Jeeves the search engine that allows full-sentence
questions in simple, plain English comes its Washington state government
cousin, Ask George, named after the first president. The search engine went
live Feb. 15 on the state's portal (access.wa.gov).
Laura Parma of the state Department of Information Services said a technology
government steering committee last year decided that it made sense to offer
an easy-to-use search engine for citizens. After a competitive bidding process,
the state chose Ask Jeeves Inc.'s Business Solutions last November.
Parma said development cost $73,000 and it pays the company an $18,000
monthly subscription fee, which includes licensing and hosting, technical
support, editorial enhancements and reports on usage.
It is the first public-sector venture for Ask Jeeves, whose core markets
are technology, financial services, retail and telecommunications. Sean
Murphy, the company's vice president of marketing and product, said Washington's
decision shows a customer-centric and business-oriented approach.
"If you don't do a good job providing easy, fast, relevant access for
questions on your site, you're basically driving those customers to other
mediums of action, or abandonment," he said. The challenge here was to learn
the government's own "linguistic DNA" terms that are unique or common
to government, but not elsewhere, he added.
Parma said state agency experts assisted the company in developing answers
to persistently asked questions culled from telephone queries, e-mail messages
and other sources.
Murphy said the company built a knowledge base of the top questions
and answers. Additionally, the popularity-based search technology continually
reads and indexes the 300,000 state sites, and provides responses not included
in the knowledge base. So when a user enters a question, it's interpreted
for word meaning, context and grammar, and matched against the databases
for relevant responses.
Ask George also monitors sites that are more popular than others and
provides reports on "which content works, which content doesn't work, and
which content it doesn't have," said Murphy.
Washington's state portal receives about a million hits a month and
provides access to more than 240 online services from more than 150 governmental