Crystal City Startup Working to Decode Government Acronyms

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Govlish logo (Courtesy of Robert Mander)A startup based out of a Crystal City incubator is looking to help break down the cacophony of government abbreviations and acronyms.

Govlish, a startup out of Eastern Foundry, is a searchable online database of acronyms and abbreviations used by the state and federal governments.

“Govlish is a data-driven tool for navigating our government maze — the largest, most complex organization on the planet,” said founder Robert Mander.

The idea behind Govlish is that there are hundreds of thousands acronyms used by governments, both federal and state, and many times there are acronyms with multiple definitions.

For example, there are 14 different terms that are abbreviated to “CIP” in the government. For one department, it might mean “clean in place,” but another might use it for “College Intern Program.”

Finding what a specific term means and in the right context can take up to 30 minutes by using a Google search, but with Govlish it would take 25 seconds, Mander said.

“I learned very early on that you cannot understand the government without learning the government language,” he said.

Right now, people use Google to look up terms, and according to Google’s index for government term searches, 14 million people are searching different acronyms. Mander said he expects to capture the “lionshare” of the people once he launches Govlish.

The idea for Govlish came from Mander’s experience as a technical writer for the government. He had collected lists of the different acronyms and abbreviations he did not know, and noticed he wasn’t alone.

“I’ve been to hundreds of meetings and no one does that [ask what a term means],” Mander said. “No one wants to admit they don’t know something.”

With Govlish, people will be able to look up the acronyms during a meeting in a private manner, allowing them to follow along with a meeting, he added.

People can also look up the different acronyms under departments by using tracing features.

Once launched, there will be three different user plans, Mander said. One will be access to an app, or a “cheat sheet,” meant for the casual user, most likely with a $0.99 access fee.

The app will allow people to search different acronyms, or if a term is a true acronym, the app will pronounce the word.

One example would be the Freedom of Information Act, which goes by the word FOIA and pronounced as a word instead of individual letters. Users could either speak “FOIA” into the app or search “FOIA” and have the app pronounce the word and explain what it means, Mander said.

Govlish also offers a website and data sets, both which would be paid for on a subscription basis, Mander said. Those who buy access to the website or the data sets, will be able to use the app for free.

Mander plans to provide a subscription model for nonprofits, government contractors and schools, he said.

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