Tom had the nerve to post that directionlessgov.com produces the correct answer when given the word “think” (as in road safety – see below) to hunt for. The “less” site (which is not to say the other is the “more” site) shows both direct.gov’s search output as well as google’s (which it rebadges and rebrands very nicely).
I hadn’t planned to defend direct.gov here, but it will look like I am. The google output is 9 links to the thinkroadsafety site and one to the hedgehog site (likely winner of the award for most unusual .gov website … www.hedgehogs.gov.uk. If you care to visit, you’ll find you have to “hog in” – I’m sure the bad jokes don’t stop there but I didn’t dare go any further).
Direct.gov demotes road safety to number 7 as I posted before, but it does at least give 10 different sites, just in case when you typed “think” you really did want to visit rethink or RU thinking about it or whatever.
Google probably don’t mind if you hook into their site for the odd search, maybe even a few hundred (although they’d probably be a bit upset if they looked and found that directionless.gov strips out the ads which drive their revenues). But, there were 589,039 searches on direct.gov in October 2005 (from the EDT report) and I can’t imagine google being too happy about that amount of freeloading on their servers. Indeed, when we talked to google (in my old job) about using them directly for government search (we even registered http://www.search.gov.uk I think), they wouldn’t allow a direct hook into them but, instead, wanted to sell a google black box for close to $1mm. Not the best spend of taxpayer money I think – when most users are going to try google first anyway.
Interestingly, if you use google and don’t restrict the search to just .gov sites (which is what directionless does), and you search for “think” – where does the road safety campaign site come out? 7th.
The other point, reinforced by Jason’s comment below, is that there are still just too many domain names. There are probably at least 5,000 maybe 5,500 which reduce down to perhaps 3,500 individual websites (allowing for, say, http://www.ir.gov.uk pointing to hmrc.gov.uk – maybe that’s a plan, we can just rationalise government departments to reduce the domain count?). I think that’s 3,250 too many and if I’m really nasty, it’s probably 3,490 too many. I’ve often stood at conferences and said that the average person has 10 bookmarks for key sites. The odds of one of them being government are pretty low which is perhaps why direct.gov whilst doing well with 1,500,000 visitors isn’t getting anything like the 20% of the population visiting that it probably should get. Not an easy set of problems to solve – but it needs more than strategy, it needs action.