The Government Domain: Roll Your Own Government Search

By Peggy Garvin, Published on April 15, 2006
Peggy Garvin of Garvin Information Consulting is author of The United States Government Internet Manual (Bernan Press) and contributing author for The Congressional Deskbook, 2005-2007 (TheCapitol.Net).

Does web searching have you feeling like Goldilocks in the house of the Three Bears, with a search of the entire World Wide Web being too big and a search of just one or two sites being too small? If you are looking for a web search that is "just right," you may want to make your own porridge.

Rollyo is a free web service that lets you build your own little search engine by choosing up to 25 sites to search at once. Using Rollyo can save time for those of us who regularly research specialized government topics: no more wading through results from the flotsam that a general search engine crawls, no more jumping from site to site recreating the same search on weak site search engines, and no more navigating different sites for government, topical blog, and public policy content. Need to search the web sites of your state cultural agencies along with the sites for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities? Want to search the sites for the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Budget Office, the House, and the Senate along with the CRS reports at Open CRS, all in one fell swoop? You can do these things with Rollyo.

Screenshot of Rollyo Homepage

Launched in October 2005, Rollyo has been getting a steady stream of publicity. The Wall Street Journal's personal tech guru Walt Mossberg covered it in February. Blogs spreading the word include Search Engine Watch (not once, but twice], Content Matters (just last month), and the American Bar Association's ABA Site-tation (see the March 20 entry, second from top).

The easiest way to understand how Rollyo works is to take a look at some of the customized search engines, called "searchrolls," that others have built. Registered users of Rollyo can choose to share their searchrolls with the public, and many do.

Take a look at the General Government Search, http://www.rollyo.com/mwpowell/general_government/, created by a Rollyo user registered as mwpowell. Replace the grey "Search for…" text with your own search terms. The screen image directly below shows results of a search on "weapons of mass destruction." The left column reveals which sites comprise mwpowell's General Government Search searchroll. Click on an individual site name to see only the results from that site.

Screenshot of mwpowell's General Government Searchroll

To find other searchrolls on a topic, select Explore from the menu along the top of the Rollyo pages. Search for searchrolls by keyword or by a URL that you think relevant searchrolls might include. When I was searching for general U.S. government searchrolls, I searched on the URL firstgov.gov.

If you find a public searchroll that is just right for your needs, you can bookmark it, or-if you are registered with Rollyo and you use the Firefox browser-you can add it to your Firefox toolbar. Unfortunately, my experience with others' searchrolls reminded me less of Goldilocks and more of the Princess and the Pea. Not to worry! The whole point is that you can roll your own search engine.

The Rollyo process is easy.