Ask George answers local queries
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Dec 03, 2001
Washington state portal
Washington state, which earlier this year launched a plain-English search
engine for its state portal, has expanded the service to scan information
related to 200 cities and 39 counties.
After reviewing usage data of the "Ask George" search engine for several
months following its mid-February launch, state officials realized there
was a gap in providing information about local governments, said Laura Parma
of the state's Information Services Department.
According to state officials, of the roughly 130,000 queries per month
the search engine handles, nearly 14 percent are related to city and county
information. Most citizens inquire about information related to Seattle
and King and Pierce counties.
So, in collaboration with the Association of County/City Information
Services and a state group of chief information officers from local governments,
the Information Services Department identified 23 topical areas related
to municipal services, she said. These include information pertaining to
permits and licenses, businesses, taxes, zoning, elections, public safety,
parks and recreation, utilities, laws and regulations, social and human
services, and arts and tourism.
With assistance from California-based Ask Jeeves Inc., which helped
develop the state search engine, information from the topical areas was
incorporated into the state database.
"Our hope was that what would come back through search results is what
[people] were asking," Parma said.
She said that when a user makes a query, Ask George delivers information
in two ways: through set questions and answers built into the state's knowledge
base and also through "spidered" results. To produce the spidered results,
the technology continually reads and indexes the 300,000 state sites and
provides responses not included in the knowledge base. City and county information
is incorporated only into the knowledge base.
Parma said she is unaware of other state governments using search engine
technology that incorporates information from other jurisdictions. From
a citizen's perspective, she said, it's a benefit because users are not
always sure what level of government provides which services.
The state is also investigating ways to link to some federal organizations
and FirstGov, the federal government's search engine, as well as enable
municipalities to use the search technology.