LexisNexis has launched a beta version of its own Web search tool, called Lexis Web. Unlike general search sites such as Google, Lexis Web searches a more limited sphere of legal-oriented Web sites. The user guide says that the sites it searches have been selected and validated by the LexisNexis editorial staff, so that users [...]
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I wrote here in March about Searchme, a new search site, still in beta, that delivers results visually, showing pages rather than descriptions of pages. I learned today of two new features added to Searchme, one of which could be of particular use for research, presentations or any number of uses.
This new feature is called Stacks. It lets you collect groups of Web pages and then save them to a unique URL or share them via e-mail, blogs, Web pages or social-networking sites such as Facebook. Searchme has also added Media Search, which lets you search for images and videos from Flickr and YouTube. Images and videos can also be added to a stack, to create a collection of Web pages, images and videos around a particular subject.
All of this is easy to do. After you perform a search, you can click the “stack” button to create a new stack and give it a name. As you browse the Web pages shown in your search results, simply drag any you want to keep onto your stack. The same goes for images and videos — drag them onto your stack and they are saved there. When you display your stack, it displays in the same flowing manner as the Searchme search results, which I compare to the way in which iTunes displays album covers. As you flow through videos in your stack, they begin to play automatically.
Here is a stack I created for the search “antonin scalia,” including Web pages, images and videos:
A new search engine, Picollator, purports to search for images on the Web that match images you upload. It uses pattern recognition to look for matching visual objects in other images. In this way, it claims, is helps “find photos of people more easily than any existing text-based search system. You can simply upload a photo with people to launch the search process.” OK, I thought, let’s try Hillary Clinton. See below for the results I obtained. Nice pics, but for precision, I’ll take text-based search, thank you.
I have been testing the beta version of a new search site that delivers results visually, showing pages rather than descriptions of pages. Called Searchme, it is by no means the first search engine to include images of matching Web pages within search results, but I have never seen one do it so smoothly and seamlessly. The best comparison is to the way an iPod touch or iTunes displays album covers in what Apple calls Cover Flow. In Searchme, the flow is similar, only it is showing Web pages, not CD covers.
Searchme is still in beta. As the company emphasizes, it is not yet ready for public release. Use is by invitation only — you can request an invitation at the site’s main page. The company also cautions that its index of Web pages is still relatively small — around one billion. And its indexing program is still growing, but getting smarter every day.
As soon as you begin to enter a search query, icons begin to appear under the search box representing topics by which you can narrow your search. As I type “antonin scalia,” for example, icons appear for U.S. government, courts, politicians, U.S. news and history. I can click and arrow to see even more. I can select one of these icons or ignore them and enter the search. After I enter the search, the icons remain on the search page, so I can use them to narrow my search at any time.
The default results page has no text, just the flow of pages matching my query, with the top result centered in the screen and the others lined up to the right waiting to take center stage. As I flow through them — either by clicking or using the scroll bar — the pages flow smoothly across the screen. If I hover over the centered page, an information box pops up with more information about it. If I click on the page image, I go to the actual page. A quick click on the arrow at the bottom of the page, and now the screen is divided horizontally, with the page images at the top and the page descriptions more typical of other search engines at the bottom.
I have found other search engines that include page images to be clumsy, with the images sometimes slow to load and appearing to be an afterthought to the textual description. With Searchme, the text takes a back seat to the images, which flow smoothly and appear clear.
More to the point, the delivery of search results through images rather than text (or images and text, if you prefer) is highly effective. We all know the expression that a picture is worth a thousand words. Here, seeing the pages that contain your search results helps you quickly measure their usefulness and relevance. Maybe that assumes some advance knowledge of the sources, and maybe visual search isn’t for everyone, but I am so far impressed with this new search engine and look forward to its further refinement.
(You can see two videos demonstrating Searchme at YouTube.)
My Web Watch column this month, Search on Steroids, profiles Collexis, a powerful new search tool making its way into the legal market. The review notes, “The company also is preparing to launch other legal products based on the same search platform, including databases of federal and state case law and U.S. patents. Both are due out in the first half of 2008.”
Well, no sooner did that column go to press than Collexis on Monday announced its acquistion of legal publishing company Lawriter LLC, operator of the legal research service Casemaker, which contracts with 28 state bar associations to provide the research service to their members. Then today, Collexis announced its acquisition of an additional legal library consisting of 3.5 million documents to add to Casemaker’s existing library of cases, statutes and other materials. Allan Crawford, Collexis’s senior account executive for the legal market, told me that the company will continue to offer Casemaker while also adding a premium service with enhanced features.
As my column explains, I was impressed with the company’s search technology. I look forward to seeing what it has in store for Casemaker.
I wrote here in November about plans by Public.Resource.Org to publish 1.8 million pages of public-domain federal case law sometime this year and its goal of eventually creating a public-domain repository of all federal and state case law. More recently, in an article of mine published on Law.com, I singled out Public.Resource.Org and a similar project, AltLaw, as among the five most notable legal sites of 2007.
Now, a parallel project aims to bring to this growing body of public-domain law a sophisticated search engine comparable to those of commercial legal databases. In fact, the developers of this experimental legal search engine, called PreCYdent, say their tests outperform “by a wide margin” Westlaw natural language search, not to mention Lexis and other commercial databases.
The site is up and running in an alpha version containing about 340,000 cases, with a beta launch planned for the end of February. It came about through the work of University of San Diego School of Law Professor Thomas A. Smith, who serves as its CEO. Smith and the other members of the PreCYdent team say they base their work on two fundamental beliefs: that judicial opinions and statutes must be in the public domain, and that everyone — lawyers, students and the public — should have access to state-of-the-art legal research technology. “The site is free and will stay that way,” Smith wrote me in an e-mail. The service will rely on ads to generate revenue.
The power of PreCYdent’s search engine comes from its ranking of results by “authority,” using a propriety algorithm to analyze connections within networks of data similar in concept to Google and its PageRank technology. Here is how the Web site explains it:
“PreCYdent search technology ranks results by ‘authority’, using mathematical techniques, such as eigenvector centrality, similar to those used by advanced Web search engines, as well as proprietary techniques we have developed that are specialized to the legal domain. PreCYdent search technology is able to mine the information latent in the ‘Web of Law’, the network of citations among legal authorities. This means it is also able to retrieve legally relevant authorities, even if the search terms do not actually occur or occur frequently in the retrieved document.”
Smith describes the development and mechanics of PreCYdent in greater detail in an interview with Joe Hodnicki published yesterday at Law Librarian Blog. Smith’s initial research that formed the genesis of the project is described in his 2005 article, The Web of Law.
PreCYdent’s developers are incorporating a number of Web 2.0 features. The site already allows users to add commentary, recommendations and ratings to cases. Smith writes:
“Coming soon is a social network platform that will interface seamlessly (or pretty seamlessly) with the law library and search. This will enable people to find lawyers and lawyers and laypeople to share knowledge and experience. An upload feature will allow users to upload all kinds of documents, such as briefs, memos, videos, audio, and so on. All of this will be parsed by us, put into our network, and be searchable and ranked by our engine.”
I performed various top-of-the-mind searches today — nothing too sophisticated — and was impressed by the relevance and ranking of results. The default ranking is by authority, so if there are relevant Supreme Court cases, they tend to appear at the top. Advanced search options allow you to modify the ranking to be chronological or “traditional” and to limit your search by date, court and judge. Cases include citations and page numbers. Once Public.Resource.Org publishes the cases mentioned at the outset of this post, PreCYdent will add them to its database.
The founder of Wikipedia has set Jan. 7 as the launch date for his new search engine, Wikia, according to a report in The Washington Post. The site, which is already operating in beta, hopes to challenge search giant Google by distinguishing itself through four organizing principles:
- Transparency. Openness in how the systems and algorithms operate, both in the form of open source licenses and open content.
- Community. Everyone is able to contribute in some way (as individuals or entire organizations), strong social and community focus.
- Quality. Significantly improve the relevancy and accuracy of search results and the searching experience.
- Privacy. Must be protected, do not store or transmit any identifying data.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve received several e-mails informing me that someone I know has requested my trust on Spock. Not knowing anything about it, I ignored them until I could find the time to investigate. Today I found the time — and I am impressed.
Spock is a search tool for finding people. But it is also a social networking and tagging tool. This combination makes it far more useful than other people-search tools and far more targeted than a broad search tool such as Google. For lawyers and other professionals, a key feature is the ability to claim yourself within search results and then enhance your profile with information about yourself — Web links, RSS feeds, tags and contact information. In other words, you have significant control over the profile that others see in their search results.
Another key feature is the ability to search by a variety of parameters — name, e-mail address, tags, location, age and gender, for example. Even better, you can search by description, such as “massachusetts lawyer” or “massachusetts divorce lawyer,” for example. Spock draws its search results from a broad array of sources, including social networking sites such as Linkedin and MySpace.
Another key element, once you’ve registered (which costs nothing), is your search network. You build this network in several ways. One is to establish a “trust relationship” with a person, generally someone you know (thus those e-mails I was receiving). Another is to import your contacts and make those names part of your network. You can import contacts from Outlook, Gmail, Linkedin, Plaxo, AOL, Hotmail and other sources. Once you’ve established a search network, you can confine your searches to this network, resulting in more targeted and relevant results.
Other features of Spock include:
- Tagging. You can add tags to yourself and vote on others’ tags. This establishes and strengthens relationships between people.
- Related people. Allows you to define connections between people.
- News. Keep informed of news about people in various ways, from the RSS fees they add to status updates Spock supplies.
Spock is a people search engine that emphasizes the “people” part. I see it becoming a popular tool for searching for lawyers, whether by potential clients or by other lawyers, as well as for researching parties, witnesses, experts, job prospects and business associates.
I wrote in March 2005 about the public-records search engine Pretrieve. A major appeal of the site was that it was free. Go to Pretrieve today and the front page still describes the service as free — even highlighting the word free in red type — but it lies. Enter a query and you are rerouted to the paid search service Intelius, where it will cost you a minimum of $7.95 to see results. As far as I can tell, this change just took place within the past couple weeks. Sorry to see the demise of this useful free resource.
Law.com today launched a new search tool that allows more focused searching of legal sites than would a general search site such as Google, with the goal of delivering more relevant results. Called Law.com Quest, it provides the option of searching only the Law.com network of sites or a broader collection of legal Web sites and legal blogs.
A nice feature is the ability to filter search results by date ranges or by the content source or type. For example, if you search within the Law.com network, you can then filter results to show only those from the National Law Journal or The American Lawyer, or you can choose to see only results that come from court decisions or blogs. If you use the broader “legal Web” search, you can filter results by selected courts and regions.
The Law.com search option draws results from Law.com sites and ALM publications. The broader search includes legal sites and blogs selected by Law.com staff. An FAQ invites users to suggest sites they would like to see included.
Access to some items listed in search results is limited to the publication’s subscribers. For these, the results page includes a “subscription required” notice.
My somewhat brief testing today reveals this to be a more powerful and more user-friendly search tool than was previously available on Law.com. The addition of the broader legal Web search is a nice touch. One drawback of this broader search is that, because you don’t know which sites and blogs it indexes, you are left uncertain of how to interpret search results. But that is a small negative in an overall significant enhancement to the Law.com site.