Arizona indexed databases on jobs, health and human services, emergency response, real estate, licensed contractors, licensed child-care facilities, licensed nursing homes, governor's office announcements, and registered sex offenders.

Virginia created SiteMap indexes for content from 26 of its 90 state agencies in time for the late April announcement, Chopra said. By early June, that number went up to 46.

Applying SiteMap to an agency's content is a fairly simple procedure requiring only a few hours, Chopra said. It involves downloading the public domain SiteMap protocol and then loading in the government content.

Because the states were new to the process, however, they spent additional time preparing themselves. "Every other week, we had training programs, conference calls, WebExes," Chopra said, adding that Google helped with those and with discussions of privacy and other procedural matters.

Agencies must also choose which databases they'd like to be more accessible. Such project coordination seems to take more time than the site indexing itself, Needham said. "And when it's done, once the traffic starts to grow, how are we going to ensure we're supporting that traffic?"

With only eight weeks to get its pilot up and running before the formal announcement, Arizona's Government Information Technology Agency targeted some of the larger, more technologically savvy state agencies for implementation, Cummiskey said. "Some of the medium-sized agencies that we'll be approaching over time don't have the same level of sophistication. It's going to take a little bit more time and energy to get them there."

 

Custom Search
Google also helped the states implement free Custom Search Engine software. This lets a state create a tool on its Web site to search across the sites of numerous government entities at the local, state, federal and tribal levels.

For example, enter "water" in the "All Arizona Government Search" box, and you'll get results from - among many others - the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Tucson Water Department, the state Legislature and the Navajo Nation.

This tool offers a tighter focus than a generic Google Web search, Cummiskey said. "We've found that to be very good so far, because it really does create a one-stop shop where citizens can find information they're looking for."

In the future, Google might not work as closely with other state or local governments that want to implement SiteMap and the Custom Search Engine, but the company certainly wants them to join in. "We're also open to work with agencies and jurisdictions on ensuring that their information is fully disseminated, their sources are being delivered, without fee," Needham said.

Because SiteMap is open source, state and local governments can implement it without Google's help, Needham said. "However, we do look forward to introducing further tools that are relevant."

Using techniques such as mash-ups - the melding of data from more than one Web site into a single presentation - Google could help governments present GIS data and other Web resources, he said.

Chopra, for one, likes the idea of creating mash-ups from Google Maps and government data sources - for example, to geographically plot student reading scores and patterns of family and environmental factors that might help account for poor academic performance.

"We have yet to scratch the surface of all that we could do with these tools," he said.

 

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer