Government portal receives a search makeover

Government portal receives a search makeover

The New Zealand Government portal has had a quiet, search-led makeover.

The revised portal, featuring a new model of search that the State Services Commission would like to see spread across other government websites, was officially launched last week.

The new site sees a totally new approach to search delivered, where the SSC has opted out of managing its own metadata and outsourced this "public index" management to MSN through a search portal provided by US-based Vivisimo.

Laurence Millar, the SSC's deputy commissioner for information and communications technology, said the new function will search all government sites, for text, for images and for news. Switching between the three modes of search is done simply by hitting a tag on the search box.

Within the search there are also many different ways to structure a query and the system delivers tagging and other up-to-date functionality. Lists that can refine any given search are provided on the fly to the left of the search screen, by topic or agency.

"Any webmaster in government can download the search box and put it on their site," said Millar.

The new model means New Zealand Government no longer has to crawl its own sites and construct metadata for search.

"I'd like to see more people moving towards public-index search," Millar said. "Life's too short to maintain your own indexes."

"Fifty percent-plus of visitors are from overseas," Millar said. "This is the first place they come."

The search function will also highlight specific government promotions, he said. A search for "retirement," for example, throws up links to retirement calculators.

"There is the ability to do context-specific promotion of particular government initiatives," Millar said.

Millar said the new search is secure and fast.

"It has all the advantages of the MSN engine in a safe and trusted environment," he said.

The site has also had a style makeover. Millar said the colors used on government sites are "converging" and the swoosh motif, the line underneath the site's name, is spreading. Tabbed browsing also features.

He said the online world has moved on a lot in the past three years and it is only with the benefit of hindsight that the old portal looks dated.

"Part of it is to keep up and part of it is to define the look and feel," Millar said. The aim is to provide simplicity and flexibility through design.

He said the sites are a lot more content-driven rather than content managed.

Given that government has created 2.5 million documents in the past five years, an average of around 10,000 a week, that can only be a positive.

The main developer on the project was Wellington-based open source shop Catalyst IT.

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