Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A New Form of Cheeseburger: Modern Technology & the Development of the Next Generation of Secondary Materials

[With due thanks to Jason Wilson's brilliant post, "Secondary Materials are Like Cheeseburgers," I propose below, a concept of how law librarians, law review editors, scholars and bloggers can cooperate and build a better (well, new!) cheeseburger. These are random thoughts. I welcome feedback. RL]

The recipe:
Take Web 2.0 + Digital Commons + Durham Statement; Combine them, process until well-done and place between slices of WWW, Web 2.0 and app-technology.

The Next Generation of Secondary Materials
It is generally understood that secondary materials serve two very important purposes (beyond earning money for publishers and money and prestige for authors): First, a secondary resource, such as a treatise, practice material, looseleaf or scholarly article, provides users with clear statements of the meaning and application of the legal principles or concepts that are reflected in court opinions, statutory and administrative materials. They are essentially syntheses of rules and ideas expressed in these disparate resources, which are created and published by necessarily disparate entities for necessarily disparate audiences with necessarily disparate interests.
Second, they provide important indexing of these disparate resources through citation and analysis of the various materials. For example, if you are interested in finding the most significant cases that explain the difference between civil and criminal contempt, one need only read the relevant chapter of Wright and Miller’s Federal Practice and Procedure, because it is there that recognized experts in the field not only express their opinions as to those differences, but they also provide citations to the authorities that support their conclusions and analysis. Indeed, there may well be more cases available on the topic, but we trust that the ones cited by the authors of this treatise are the most important and most significant.

As publishers grapple with a variety pressures from shareholders and corporate boards as well as with changes in the technology and practical aspects of publishing, they have tended to respond with practices and policies that have actually served to run contrary to their underlying function which is to offer research tools to lawyers, students, practitioners and lay people who come to them for answers to pressing legal questions. Instead of, as once was the case, of serving the legal community by offering helpful tools and distributing them as widely as possible, they are narrowing their distribution to customers who can and must pay.

It is my opinion that several recent advances in “technology” generally can provide us with a new mode of secondary materials that may be as useful as traditional secondary materials, but that may be available for free for all.

The New Mode of Secondary Legal Materials
OK, here's the idea. What we're seeking is modern indexing to help the researcher focus on the most important cases - and, if possible clear commentary about what the cases mean.
Law review articles and blogs can give us a glimpse of which cases are important by examining which cases are written about and mentioned in articles and blogs. It is possible that wire services, too, can help identify which cases are important by analyzing the frequency with which cases are reported and commented upon. (There are significant problems with using data on cases reported in commercial media sources, but the problems can be accommodated for in various ways.)
The proliferation of digital law reviews in digital commons and services like SSRN, as well as articles and commentary on blogs can provide the substance for building a free database that consists of analysis of primary materials and commentary on policies and procedures.

Given the disparate forms of materials that are readily available on the web already, it is my opinion that new technology can be developed that can efficiently mine them to give researchers valuable information as they conduct research on any topic. Essentially, this new form of research tool would aggregate material from many sources, index them and offer searching and sorting in forms and of the most benefit to researchers.

In order for such as project to be successful, several foundational things should happen:

1. Law reviews should adopt the practice of asking authors to not only supply abstracts of articles, but should tag them with an approved list of subjects headings. They should also agree to tag digital articles with metadata that accurately reflects author and copyright information.

2. An approved list of metadata tags could also be circulated among bloggers and periodicals that produce digital editions.

3. Articles should be mined for citation data, including references to cases, courts, judges, scholars, etc.

4. Search results should be able to be ranked based on a variety of factors, including reputation and productivity of the authors and citation frequency.

5. Full text of cases should be indexed by computer and archived in a secure location. Search results should be available either as full text or as citation lists.

Fantasy or Possibility?
Is it possible to build a research tool that aggregates and searches information from such disparate sources? What’s more, what will such a service look like, and will it actually be valuable to researchers?
It is clear that collectively, blogs, law reviews, digital commons and various websites that report and comment upon legal matters cover a substantial portion of the most important cases of the day. A systematic method of crawling and indexing this content should provide researchers with a viable starting point for researching any current legal topic.
With Google Scholar and efforts on the part of law reviews and digital commons to build retrospective collections of secondary materials, the potential exists to build a rich, publicly accessible free resource.
Looking forward, legal scholars and other experts may endeavor to regularly comment upon breaking cases and other developments, thus providing a continuing source of present commentary about modern legal matters.
Modern developments in AJAX and HTML5, as well as new functionality of apps on iOS and Android platforms and their respective hardware platforms have the potential for the development of entirely new research tools. Unlike the present generation of online databases that are essentially flat text files built from print treatises, these new tools can give people access to a new concept of secondary materials in ways that would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago.
We’ve often heard of the difficulty of building a better mouse trap. Is it possible to build a better cheeseburger?


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Reflections on the End of the World Wide Web and the Future of the Internet as an Information/Service Resource

[This post is in an essay written in preparation for the December 10, 2010, Episode 16 of "Law Librarian Conversations," a podcast about all things law library.... This week's podcast with guests Tom Boone, Reference Librarian, Loyola Law School; Jason Wilson, Vice President Jones McClure Publishing; Ed Walters, CEO, Fastcase.

If you are reading this before Friday, 12/10, you can join us by clicking on this link:

Title: LawLibCon 16 - Future of Interface Design (12/10/2010)
Date: Friday, December 10, 2010
Time: 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM CST
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar. Follow the conversation in the chat room during the live broadcast athttp://lawlibcon.classcaster.com/chat.

Subscribe to LawLibCon on iTunes here: http://u.cali.org/2jwf . Enough shameless self-promotion.... RL]


I've been fascinated recently by a new trend in consumer use of the internet.

The internet itself has remained pretty stable as a continuing backbone for the electronic exchange of information. It has been surprisingly robust and scalable. Embarrassingly, I was one of those people who, in the early 1990's was predicting that the internet would soon break from the volume of usage as it spread from academic to commercial users. At the time, it seemed that as usage - especially, graphical intense usage - would fill the capacity of routers and cables of our national infrastructure. Surprise, surprise. Hardware manufacturers and ISPs have somehow figured out to meet the demand. (And have they ever….)

But while the internet backbone has scaled up and provided one and all with (potential) capacity for the mammoth amounts of bandwidth. A well wired home could (does?) have a wireless access point that supports at least ten simultaneous devices on the same router at speed and capacity to allow all ten users to stream music while surfing the web with several tabs open.

So the internet itself supports surprisingly intense usage. But the people who make money on the sale of this usage are the ISPs. What about the information providers who provide the information or services that consumers use? In order for content and service providers to make money for their information or services, they need two things: Unique, high quality information or services, and, eyeballs. Service or information providers either make money on the information that they sell to users, or they give their information or services away for free and sell advertising to others. This much is obvious. It's also the great challenge of being in business on the internet.

Either way, the vendor has a vested interest in holding the users' attention as long as possible. One way that they are doing that is by creating new "platforms" for access to, or usage of information or services available on the internet. If you think about it, this basic concept underlies nearly all recent developments in cyber-business. The creation of the iOS and its use of apps to access the internet was one of the very first examples of a way to lure users away from the wide-open world wide web and into a world where use of the internet was now carried out completely from within an application. This provided us with excellent, robust access to and usage of the information or services, while at the same time, keeping us in that very location for focused, discreet periods of time.

But as Mobile Safari began to become a major source of internet activity, other service and information providers began to see the potential for customized, focused internet experience. Google keeps developing more and more products and services and makes them available for free to all-comers - and yet makes billions. And they make that money without ever sending you a bill! The strategy is simple, get users to click into the world of Google for search, mail, documents, RSS feeds, phone, etc.; And keep them there! Google is striving to extend their reach even further by developing its mobile platform, Android and its forthcoming operating system, ChromeOS. Once in the Google world, a user will be able to stay in that world. FaceBook, too, making plays to become the one-stop source of all your internet life and activity.

Developments such as these may ultimately serve to make the intent a series of walled gardens where users can't easily move from one application or platform at will, at least not easily. Examples of how fine these walled gardens have become can be seen in two recent announcements of publishing ventures which have begun entirely as applications on the iPad. For example, Rupert Murdoch's announcement of the creation of an iPad based newspaper called "The Daily," and Richard Branson's new magazine called, "Project." The Daily isn't yet released (as of this writing) but Project is. And it is stunning in nearly every respect. It's beautiful, packed with features and utility. But it is limited in one important respect.

Even if I wanted to share with you the wonderful cover story in Project, I couldn't. First off, there is no URL. Second, even if I could, somehow send you a link to the article, because Project was developed on an app built especially for the iPad, you need one in order to view it. And there's no end in sight. Such applications are bound to appear in all major platforms.

The irony is that well-executed applications provide outstanding experience for the user and many people prefer the experience of browsing Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds and databases through available apps over accessing the same information with a browser.

What's a developer to do? The hope, from a user's point of view is that developers will focus their efforts on building good services and databases and make them available on every available platform. It is also important for a new system of link locators be developed so that links from within a ChromeOS application will be able to find the same article or information in an iOS application or from within a browser.

Such challenges are so subtle and nuanced as to be nearly invisible today. Tomorrow they may well be extreme obstacles for cross-platform use and may make today's successful platform the preferred one for distribution of tomorrow's information and services….