The government information search engine from Northern Light, usgovsearch, began commercial operation on June 14, and has announced revised pricing plus free access for public libraries and schools. The service that was jointly developed over the past year by Northern Light Technology (NL) and the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) had been in a 3-week free trial period after launching May 17.
At launch, there were questions raised when an article in The New York Times prompted a reaction from the Department of Commerce and some advocacy groups concerning compliance with administration policy on unrestricted access to government information. Following the various policy reviews and discussions among the private and government parties involved, a compromise was reached that appears to resolve the controversy to everyone's benefit.
Renee Edwards, public affairs director for NTIS, said that the NTIS logo has been removed from the usgovsearch page to clarify that it is an industry-developed and industry-maintained service. However, despite several newspaper reports that highlighted a loss of government support and that stated that NTIS had "pulled out" of the joint venture, NTIS will continue to support Northern Light's efforts for the service. The NTIS data will continue to be made available through the service, and NTIS staff will continue to provide assistance with taxonomy for the site and identifying government sites to be included. NTIS will only receive revenue for the sale of NTIS documents through the service, not for subscriptions. Edwards noted that NL is another reseller for NTIS, like Dialog and other online services, and NTIS hopes to increase the sale of its documents through a service that makes it easy for the public to find what they need.
Susan Stearns, director of enterprise marketing for Northern Light, said that the changes make clear that this is "a .com site, a commercial operation." She added that there were still ongoing discussions as to how active NTIS would be in the marketing and sales of the service. Originally, NTIS was to handle that for government agencies and depository sites.
Edwards noted that, because usgovsearch is a very specialized search engine, they had thought the service would appeal mostly to researchers, scientists, and agencies, for very specific uses. They had not accurately gauged the level of public interest in the service. Making the service free to public libraries and schools seemed the best way to reach the public. She felt that NL had responded very generously with the free access provision.
Sandy Waters, director of strategic planning at NTIS, said: "We are pleased to have played a part in the development of this important product for locating government information. The customer response so far is great, and we look forward to supporting Northern Light in future improvements."
Individual day passes to the premium service will be $5, instead of the previously announced $15. Monthly and yearly subscription fees for individuals will be priced at $30 and $250, respectively. Pricing for corporations, organizations, and institutions will be based on their respective number of users. Public libraries and schools (K-12) interested in signing up for free access to usgovsearch should contact Northern Light via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The positive feedback we have received from beta-testing and the recent trial period has clearly demonstrated the need for this service and the value it offers to anyone wishing to gain easy, pinpoint access to the vast amounts of information produced by, for, and about the U.S. Government," said David Seuss, chief executive officer, Northern Light. "Our company has made a significant investment in the development of this product, and we are committed to supporting its growth. We also are pleased to give the nation's public schools and libraries the opportunity to make usgovsearch freely accessible to the American people."
The new search engine indexes more than 20,000 U.S. Government agency and military Web sites, nearly 4 million Federal Web pages, 2 million abstracts from NTIS, and 8 million full-text articles from Northern Light's Special Collection, many of which are from government-oriented periodicals, such as Defense Daily and FedNet Government News. The service is available at http://www.usgovsearch.com.