[The following column originally appeared in print in May 2006. I am republishing it as part of my continuing effort to maintain an archive of my published columns. Important note: I have not updated this since its original publication. While most of the sites remain as described, some may have changed. All information was current as of the date of original publication.]
It may seem that every new legal Web site these days is a blog. But here are several recently launched sites that remind us that blogs are not the only good ideas on the Web.
• The ‘Wikipedia’ of law. I’ve become a big fan and regular user of Wikipedia, the free, user-edited encyclopedia. Last fall, Cornell’s Legal Information Institute launched the legal dictionary and encyclopedia Wex, which, like Wikipedia, is collaboratively written and edited by users. Now, another legal wiki has launched, Wiki-Law, and its co-founder says its mission “is to become the Wikipedia of the legal world.”
A wiki, according to Wikipedia’s definition, is a type of Web site “that allows users to easily add, remove, or otherwise edit all content, very quickly and easily, sometimes without the need for registration.” The new WikiLaw intends to use such user-contributed content “to create a free, complete, up-to-date and reliable world-wide legal guide and resource.”
Users can contribute content in any of seven categories: Dictionary, Forms, Statutes, Case Briefs, Law Firm Profiles, Law School Profiles and Law Journal Profiles, or they can write their own blog or submit an interesting law related link. As of this writing, contributions were light, but I hope the idea takes off.
• Encyclopedia of Congress. Another new Web resource is modeling itself on Wikipedia, this time to create a tool for citizens to research and share information about members of Congress. Like Wikipedia, Congresspedia is a collaboratively written encyclopedia. But unlike Wikipedia, its focus is exclusively on Congress. It launched in April with 539 articles, one for every current member of Congress, the non-voting delegates, and one former representative. It expects users to build from there by adding new articles on any subjects related to Congress. The site is a collaboration between the Center for Media and Democracy and the Sunlight Foundation.
• ‘MySpace’ for lawyers. If Wiki-Law aims to be the Wikipedia of the legal world, then Lawbby aspires to become the MySpace of the legal world. While MySpace is where teens and college students meet and mingle, Lawbby says it is “where lawyers mingle,” whether for business or pleasure.
Like MySpace, users can create their own profiles and groups, post photos and create blogs. And in a feature more akin to Craigslist than MySpace, users can post classified ads in categories such as jobs, expert services and lawyer referrals. The site was just launched last month and has attracted only a smattering of activity so far. But for all those legal lonely-hearts out there, now you have a home.
• Supreme Court zeitgeist. What is the collective voice of the Web saying about the Supreme Court? Find out at The Supreme Court Zeitgeist, a site that tracks news stories, blog entries, Web links and books and magazines related to the Supreme Court. It achieves this tracking by aggregating the results of searches through tools including Google News, Technorati blog search and del.icio.us link aggregator.
• Real-estate research. Any lawyer who practices real estate law will want to check out Zillow.com, a real estate site launched in February that provides free valuations and other information on more than 40 million homes in the United States. It includes most U.S. homes, not just those for sale. These valuations – which the site calls “Zestimates” – are estimated market values computed using comparable sales and other data.
In addition to valuations, the site offers a variety of useful information, including historical value changes charted over the past year, five years or 10 years; historical value changes as compared to surrounding zip code, city, state or the entire U.S.; all comparable home sales in an area; and individual home data, such as number of bedrooms/bathrooms, square footage, lot size, stories and year built. The site’s My Zestimator tool allows users to refine the listed value of a home, based on changes or additions to the home.
Zillow provides satellite, aerial and parcel views of many homes. In addition to standard satellite images, Zillow uses the Bird’s Eye View images of Microsoft Virtual Earth, providing multiple perspectives and amazing detail.
• Help finding public records. A new Web site, DetectiveForums.com, provides links to public records resources on the Web alongside free bulletin boards where users can share resources and post questions on public records. The site as of press time has links in only eight categories, but says it will soon have more than 75 categories. In numbers of links, it is no comparison to the public-records sites SearchSystems.net or Pretrieve.com. But the site’s bulletin boards could prove useful in helping researchers locate hard-to-find records. That, of course, will depend on how many users the site gets and how much information they have to share. But if you regularly search for public records online, this site is worth watching.