Yesterday, Search Engine Roundtable and InfoDocket both pointed out that Google’s U.S. government specialty search tools, Google-Uncle Sam and USGov.Google.com had been offline for several days. Additionally, Google’s long time specialty search tools Linux Search, Microsoft Search, Apple Search, and BSD Search were also unavailable.
Google has now confirmed both to us via email and on a Google Web Search Help Forum thread that all of these specialty search tools are no longer available.
Uncle Sam and the computer specialty search search sites had been available for a at least a decade.
The other specialty search site, USGov.Google.com would have celebrated its fifth birthday next week.
When it launched Google said that the specialty search tool and site would not only offer a single search box allowing users to search federal, state, and local government info but it would also provide government news from a variety of sources. Finally, USGov.Google.com also allowed users to customize the layout of the page.
Google told us:
These services were established many years ago to offer search across a limited index of the web, which in the past was a better way to find this information. For example, google.com/linux was designed to help people find information from message boards and blogs about the Linux operating system. Today, search quality has advanced tremendously, and based on our analysis we’ve found that in most cases you’re better off looking for this kind of specialized information using the regular Google search box, for example by typing [linux fedora upgrade].
We would love to learn more about how the “analysis” and review some examples of searches that don’t not fall into the “in most cases” category.
Uncle Sam and the other specialty search tools that are no longer available were very similar to what Google continues to offer users with Google Custom Search Engines (CSE).
If Google believes that using the regular one-stop search box for all searches is a more effective way to search “in most cases” you have to wonder about what the long-term future has in store for the custom search engine service. What makes a custom search engine that’s focused on hockey or nuclear power any different than what USgov.Google offered?
On a Google Advanced Search help page the company points out that they offer advanced search tools for “extra power” when needed. However, the documentation also says, “Even very advanced searchers, such as the members of the search group at Google, use these features less than 5% of the time.
The elimination of the specialty engines seems to go along with the thinking that simply typing a few words into a search box will almost always produce results that users would be happy with.
We’re not so sure about that and in fact believe that vertical search (aka specialty search) tools are potentially more useful now than in the past and could likely grow in value moving forward.
The biggest issue I have is that Google users at the very least deserve some type of notice about what’s going on changes are made to web search and other search tools.
The company should do a much better job in disseminating the info, preferably before some change is made or moments, after they’re made. Of course, asking for feedback and then listening and responding to it before a change is made would also be very “Google” at least to this point in its history but it’s up to them if they want to take it that far.
In our response from Google we did receive this:
We understand that some users were surprised by this change, so we apologize for not communicating more clearly in advance of redirecting these services to google.com.
The apology is impressive to see and another one is provided in the Web Search Help Forum thread we’ve mentioned before.
As the web continues to rapidly expand and databases grow even larger trying to find what you’re looking for becomes more and more of a challenge for all searchers.
Every useful result can’t always be on the first page and specialty or “limited” search tools, if promoted correctly and used to properly, can continue to save searchers time, aggravation, and help provide focused or “limited” results from the outset.
Why not provide a number of ways to interact with the massive web database? Would doing this cause problems for Google? Of course, these additional ways to interact with the data will not at least at the present time become something that all searchers will use but it doesn’t mean that these types of resources don’t have a lot of value to those who do use them.
Specialty search/verticals have as much if not more value on the mobile web since starting with a smaller universe of focused or limited data can potentially allow users to access focused results from the outset. This can mean fewer click, less to input into the search box, and a large savings of time and most likely aggravation.
Finally, blending algorithmic search with well curated collections of material to be targeted and crawled to create a specialty search tool or vertical would appear to make a lot of sense these days.
There’s more discussion on Techmeme.