FCC.gov: Searching in vain

by on October 29, 2007 · 11 comments

As promised, here is the first in a series of posts looking at the usefulness of the FCC website. Others, including Michael Marcus and Cynthia Brumfield, have already catalogued just how much in disrepair the site is. (In fact, our own James Gattuso blogged today about the FCC site, which prompted me to finally kick off the series.) I’ve had lots of time to think about this while researching my new government transparency and the Internet paper, so here’s my contribution to the general piling-on.

First, let’s look at search. Given the ever-increasing amount of data online, search is the web’s killer app. If you can’t find it, it doesn’t matter how much useful data is available online. The FCC offers a search bar at the top left of its site. So what does this box search? According to the FCC site:

Search Scope: The FCC Search Engine searches throughout the FCC’s web site, including the Electronic Document Management System (EDOCS), but does not collect information from the FCC’s other databases and electronic filing systems such as the Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS). Information is collected from web pages and many types of documents including Word, WordPerfect, Acrobat, Excel, and ASCII Text, and is constantly updated.

Right off the bat this tells us that the FCC houses several disparate databases (eight, according to Brumfield), and that they’re not all searched by their main search box. Most notably, their regulatory docket system (ECFS) is not searched. (More on this in a future post.)

If you search for Kevin Martin, this is what you get:

FCC search engine

This list, which is “sorted by relevance,” contains just one result written since Martin was named Chairman, and that’s just a link to a series of press photos.

In contrast, here’s what you get if you search just the fcc.gov domain for Kevin Martin using Google:

Google search of FCC

I don’t need to point out how this is better. Instead I’ll point out that Google custom search is available, for free, to any website. Even if the FCC doesn’t choose to go with Google, it can certainly do better than its current search engine. The current search option is worse than useless because it gives the illusion or false hope that it might return something useful.

Next time: Searching dockets.

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