|Gov.com is the first government directory ever established on the world-wide-web, with its origins prior to 1994. The mission of Gov.com remains the same as it was then, to bridge the gap between the private sector and the public sector.
The founders were system integrators for Silicon Graphics and Cray Research, with a specialized practice in visual simulation and clients across the Eastern US coast, including the defense and intelligence communities. During a meeting with the Public Information Officer (PIO) for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a question was raised regarding the world-wide-web, which turned into an impromptu demonstration for 20 high-ranked FBI officials huddled around a 12-inch laptop. For almost all these people, this was their first experience ever seeing the web, and led to a year of subsequent meetings with the goal of developing an FBI website for fugitive publicity. Word got around and presentations were requested by the US Marshals, US Treasury BATF, US Customs, US Dept of State and others with similar interests. In most instances, these organizations did not have a web server and, indicative of the pre-911 "stove-pipe" mindset, refused to collaborate with any other agency. The founders launched Crime.net as a public service to fill this need, but legal obstacles still impeded progress toward the ultimate goal of posting "virtual wanted posters" of fugitives at large. These weren't fully resolved until a ruling by US Attorney General Janet Reno in 1995, by which time most of the federal law enforcement agencies were able to establish some basic web presence to which they could now post their fugitives.
The immense value for the world-wide-web to allow citizens to more closely participate in the creation of government policy and law was immediately recognized by the founders, whom launched Congress.com and Senate.com in 1995 as the only online resource for constituents to contact their elected representatives. Meetings were held throughout Washington with Congresspersons and Senators to promote the concept of electronic democracy, and a year later, the Clerk of the House of Representatives launched House.gov and another year later, Senate.gov was launched. By 1997, the Presidential Cabinet became aware of electronic government as a logical step in the emergence of global electronic commerce, and the Presidential Directive on Electronic Commerce was issued, establishing a mandate for federal agencies to make Freedom of Information Act data and the 500 most common government-constituent transactions available through the Internet.
A year earlier, the founders (members of IETF and W3C and now recognized experts in WWW) were asked by Silicon Graphics (SGI) to launch SGI's new web development and hosting solutions onstage at Internet World, attracting the interest of investment bankers looking for promising Internet start-ups. The founders were approached by several well-respected firms regarding investment in Congress.com and Senate.com, but coincidentally, each had a vision starkly in conflict with our core belief. Only a few months earlier, the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City had been savagely bombed by US citizens lacking a basic understanding and trust in their government. These well-educated and influential businessmen representing the world's premier financial institutions had the same lack of understanding and trust. This strengthened our convictions that the Internet should make government more accessible to facilitate democracy and government process across all social and economic divisions, not further polarize it. We founded Gov.com at that time with this mission.
Following the 1997 Presidential Directive on Electronic Commerce, fifteen cabinet-level agencies created an Internet presence along with about 110,000 bureaus, directorates and offices under their authority. Constituents now had unprecedented access to information and services, but without a deep understanding of government process, would not know where to find the responsible administrative office to file a form or the authoritative resource to ask a question. Gov.com indexed every available federal government information resource according to the administrative hierarchy and made it available to the general public. Federal agencies recognized the effort and responded by requesting permission to link to Gov.com from their home pages.
Complicating a constituent's ability to accomplish even simple tasks online, agencies built their websites authoritatively encompassing their vertical range of information and services ("stove-pipes"), while government process often requires interfacing with several offices spanning across several different agencies. A constituent might find a logical starting point in a government process, but not know where to go next. In these instances, electronic government failed.
As requests for referral to authoritative resources filtered into the Gov.com webmaster, we expanded our mission to facilitate government process and vowed to "make government user-friendly." First, we built "how-to" documents to lead people step-by-step through various processes, then in 1996, Inktomi introduced the first distributed search engine technology and Gov.com immediately recognized it's potential to organize information across "stove-pipes" into meaningful collections. We proposed the idea to the Department of Commerce National Technical Information Service as a joint venture with Fedworld BBS and subsequently to General Services Administration. Three years later in 1999, the President issued a highly critical memorandum known as the Presidential Electronic Commerce Performance Mandate, echoing: "There has not been sufficient effort to provide Government information by category of information and service--rather than by agency--in a way that meets people's needs." General Services Administration partnered with Inktomi and launched their Firstgov website 3 months later. By 1999, we partnered with an innovative new company, Google.
Search technologies presented security risks and yielded imperfect results based on keywords and not intent, and recognizing the mission-critical nature of government compliance, Gov.com continued to innovate and pioneered the human-assisted-search, where a constituent can interface with a live research librarian to request referral to authoritative resources and be led through complex government process. All valid inquiries receive a personal response within an a day. To facilitate government process, Gov.com has collaborated with trusted industry organizations to provide access to compliance solutions not available through any government resource. Gov.com also accepts no advertising to assure complete control over the high quality, trusted user experience we strive to deliver.
Following the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States, the nation's attention turned toward national security issues and Gov.com met those expectations with links preparing for, intervening in and responding to terrorist threats. Gov.com is a vigilant collection point for threats to national security interests, constituents and consumers, interfacing directly with federal law enforcement, intelligence community and industry groups in matters of counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, anti-phishing, identity theft, online fraud, and information security. Gov.com contributes investigation and analysis resources where they are needed pro bono, contributed to the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, is a contributor to DHS Open Source Daily and critical infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), and a respected member of several highly regarded work groups and taskforces seeking to make the Internet and the United States more secure.
In the interests of national security, we believe that global threats may be reduced through expanded global understanding. Gov.com attracts an international audience including individuals from nations recognized for closed societies and substandard human rights. In some instances, these nations block their citizen's access to our official government websites to repress understanding and appreciation of a democratic society. Gov.com will be responding with regional versions of government directories for international audiences in the near future.