Search on for search engine

FirstGov has begun searching for a new search engine. General Services Administration officials, who run the governmentwide portal, are asking industry leaders, vendors and researchers to suggest "search service solutions" to power FirstGov in 2003 and perhaps earlier.

GSA leaders want to receive search engine proposals by July 16.

FirstGov has free use of a powerful Inktomi Corp. search engine that enables Internet users to access 31 million Web pages posted by the federal government and 16 million pages posted by the states and Washington, D.C. But the free use is limited, and the government must start paying for FirstGov's search capability by August 2003.

Officials have begun seeking suggestions for a replacement search engine among search engine developers, vendors and researchers.

The Inktomi engine is sure to be among those considered when the government begins to pay for search services, according to FirstGov officials. Delivering search capability for FirstGov could be worth several million dollars, a GSA official said.

Use of the Inktomi engine is a gift from Eric Brewer, a University of California at Berkeley computer scientist and co-founder of Inktomi. The engine is well-suited to FirstGov because it is fast—it can search 500 million documents in less than a quarter of a second—and it can handle about 100 million searches a day. The engine also can "crawl" through all government Web sites and create an index.

The next search engine must do all that—and more. For example, GSA wants a search engine that can crawl and index "unstructured government databases," such as large databases of geographic or numeric information that are expected to become accessible via the Internet, a GSA official said.

Agency officials also want the new engine to be able to map occurrences and clusters of keywords. Such knowledge could shed light on which agencies and departments are working on related subjects and could increase collaboration, the GSA official said. In addition to mapping keywords, the new search engine should be able to map concepts, according to GSA. To do so would probably require the ability to analyze natural language, a rapidly developing computing capability.

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