The Government Domain: Roll Your Own Government Search

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,, 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

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.

  • Register.
  • Click on “Get Rolling” or “Create Searchroll,” or go straight to the form at and fill it out. (To create a searchroll from your bookmarks, see the Tools section of the site.) The last item on the form lets you choose whether to share your searchrolls with others online.
  • Test the searchroll with a few searches.
  • If needed, edit it. From the FAQ: “Just visit your profile page and click on ‘Edit an Individual Searchroll’ which will pop up a list of your searchrolls. Just click on the one you want to edit.”
  • Create a Searchroll Screenshot

    Once you have rolled your own search engine, there is more you can do with it. See the site’s Tools section for tips on putting a Rollyo search box on your web site or adding a searchroll to your Firefox search toolbar. At Washington and Lee University’s Leyburn Library, the staff is getting more mileage out of Rollyo by creating practical searchrolls and sharing them with their clients. Two government-related searchrolls are integrated with their library database listings. On this page, see the last two listings in the Reference section. These rolls let you search a collection of local government association sites (such as the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors) and a similar collection of state government association sites.

    The Rollyo FAQ claims, without further elaboration, that “we have found that the Searchrolls with 5-15 sites seem to be the most effective ones.” Apparently five to fifteen is “just right.” It is an interesting claim, and one that should get us all thinking about and testing for exactly what constitutes an effective, useful searchroll.

    Any downsides? One point many bloggers have made is that only an entire domain or subdomain (such as or can be included in a searchroll. Site subdirectories (such as can’t be effectively incorporated because Rollyo will ignore anything after the first slash. At this time, Rollyo is in beta, and the creators have said that they are working on subdirectory-specific searching for the future. Improvements in navigation and documentation could also be made. And the feature I’d really like to see is a display of which individual sites in a searchroll have garnered hits. I find that I like to search a roll of sites simultaneously, but I like to view them site-by-site. At present, I have to click on each component site to find out which ones have hits.

    Rollyo uses Yahoo! as its web index, and bloggers have made the point that you can recreate searchroll-type searches on Yahoo! without Rollyo. What Rollyo offers may not be technically stunning, but it does make the process a whole lot easier. Previously in this column, I reviewed the product. Elegus also takes prepared sets of sites (similar to Rollyo searchrolls) and lets you search the Yahoo! index for just the selected set. The focus of Elegus is on U.S. state and national government web sites. In the context of Rollyo, Elegus is like having an extensive library of official government searchrolls already made for you. If Elegus has a grouping that meets with your favor (check out the “All State Government Web Sites” selection, for example), you may not need to roll your own at Rollyo. And don’t forget the government’s own FirstGov Search, newly revamped with clustering, preview windows, and other cool features. What sets Rollyo apart from Elegus and FirstGov Search is the power it gives you to customize, tweak, update, and share your own searchrolls. This sharing and customization is what earns Rollyo the Web 2.0 label that gets the attention these days.

    An Intellectual Property Roll

    The folks at Rethink(IP) rolled their own, and they talk about it in their blog. See the Rethink(IP) searchroll at

    The roll includes 25 patent-related blogs, news sites, and associations, but not the official U.S. Patent and Trademark Office site.

Posted in: The Government Domain