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Web Resource of the Week:USA.gov--Now New and Improved

Logo for USA.govWelcome to another edition of Web Resource of the Week here at The Patriot Spot. Today we are featuring an excellent resource of government information: USA.gov. The official website of the U.S. federal government, USA.gov, recently launched a redesigned website that makes things easier to find and is much more user-friendly. You can read the official announcement here. I took some time to take the new site for a spin. Here are some highlights:
  • They have a prominent search box front and center. You can type in a topic, and similar to Google, as you type, the search engine will give suggestions. For instance, type "jobs," and the engine suggests things like "job listings" or "jobs abroad." I just ran the search for jobs, which I admit is very broad. I got about 9 million hits; however, the first link on the list was to USAJOBS.gov, which is the federal government's official website. This would likely satisfy most users. For users who want to narrow their results, they can type in more than one term, use one of the offered suggestions, or use the advanced search. Do note that the advanced option does not appear until you run a search (it is not readily apparent in the front page). The custom engine is powered by Bing.
  • Right under the search box, you see a small slide show. The show has three slides, and it highlights some high interest services. As of this writing, one of the highlights was how to get a U.S. Passport online. Next to this is a list of popular topics.
  • They have also added a series of mobile apps. This is a brand new addition that smartphone users will appreciate. I counted 18 apps for things like: product recalls, an alternative fuel locator (I thought that was kind of neat for those people who drive cars that can take things like biodiesel or even if you need propane), and the FBI's Most Wanted. All the apps are free to use (with the usual caveat that charges from your cell phone carrier may apply). According to the site, "the apps featured in our gallery were developed by government agencies on a variety of platforms. Currently, we have apps for iPhone, Android and Blackberry. A lot of our apps are mobile-friendly websites, which means they can be accessed by any device. Each agency works one-on-one with the separate platform and signs a terms of service agreement with them, so it is up to the individual agency to decide which platform to use. At this time, there is no coordinated plan to offer each and every app on every platform." In other words, not all apps are compatible with all smartphones, so visit the site and check details. For example, the product recalls app is listed as having an Android app and it notes that recalls.gov (the recalls website) does have a mobile version you can access.
  • There are options for online social media users. You can keep track of the USA.gov site, its services, and any new additions on your favorite online social media site. This includes Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube. There is also a blog, which you can subscribe to using your favorite feed reader. Personally, I do subscribe to their blog via Google Reader, and it works very well for me.
  • And speaking of blogs, the site also offers an excellent list of government blogs organized by subject. This is part of their reference section, which includes a very good list of additional resources. Don't let the word "reference" scare you away. This is not just for librarians. On this reference section you can find things like abbreviations (GAO, CBO, OMB), various calendars, forms, maps, and even historical documents. Say you need to read a copy of the U.S. Constitution? Find it in the reference section (direct link to the Constitution here; the site links to the National Archives).
Why would you use this site? The USA.gov website provides a central location to find information from the federal government. It also provides links to various state agencies. So, you could type a query like "jobs in Texas," and you would get some good results; the first link in the result list for that search is for the Texas Workforce Commission, so you get pretty relevant results. When it comes to finding government information, the basic rule is you need to have an idea what agency would provide the information you seek. Using the USA.gov website means you can search for the information, and it will tell you where to go find it. It is a very good starting point. Whether you need information on jobs, how to contact your elected officials, how they voted, bills in Congress, travel tips, the TSA's list of restricted items for travel, economic information, etc., you can find it on USA.gov.
Published by root on 20 Aug

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