Is The Semantic Web A Synonym for Time Travel?

I am a romantic agnostic. I doubt much, but fervently wish that fairy tales would come true. Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to the idea of the Semantic Web . That and the fact that I research for a living. The exponential growth in on-line data,  content creation and linking is staring us Web searchers straight in the face. I am guessing that most of us, professional and amateur alike, would love to lay their hands on that particular protocol that cuts through the infinite virtual warehouse and returns, on the first try, the data it knows you are seeking.

I am still holding out for this “impossible dream.” I do think it could evolve. Check out the awesome documentary below by Kate Ray with its “star” studded Semantic cast, and let me know if you do too. Hat tip to Jolie O’Dell at Mashable (link here).

The Semantic Web: What It Is and Why It Matters

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Will The Semantic Web Affect Legal Publishers?

Really, the question is not “will” but “how.” Reading today about the effect of the semantic Web movement on the legal publishing industry, as part of a subset of a larger series on the effect of the semantic Web on many industries. The article is written by Bernard Lunn over at The Semantic Web (link here). Really fascinating read, mostly due to predictions as to how disruptive forces will shake the legal publishing “oligarchy”.

I suggest you hit the jump above for the full article, tables and what not. But I will summarize my own thoughts here. Bear in mind the statistic that three publishers –  Thomson Reuters, Reed Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer – own 90 percent of this $5 billion per year, high-margin  market. It’s good to be the King, right?

Well, not exactly. Lunn applies to the legal industry the same 7 disruptive forces brought to bear on other industries under the radar. Consider these forces:

Factor # 1: Digital economics.

The publishers do not own the base data, which comes from court records. These can be replicated at close to zero cost. Semantic Web technology will make those mountains of data more accessible.

Factor # 2: Generational shift in habits.

The generation of lawyers that grew up with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter will look for answers outside of the normal channels; particularly if a cost squeeze forces them to be creative.

Factor # 3: Globalization of markets.

Try selling content at US/UK prices when you are selling to BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

Factor # 4: Globalization of competition.

Lawyers and publishers in BRIC countries will bring price competition one way or another.

Factor # 5: Deleveraging.

In this case the deleveraging is lawyers paying off student loans when they can no longer charge really high $ per hour rates. They simply won’t pay as much for information because they cannot pay.

Factor # 6: Great Recession.

Customers are pressing legal firms for lower prices. Big firms have gone smash and many have cut back. They will seek lower costs from publishers.

Factor # 7: Regulatory change.

People in the industry are pushing for more AntiTrust action. The more radical option is Law.gov, which we will explore in the next post.

That’s a lot of pressure from many diverse sources. It’s to be expected. When you own too much, charge too much, and fail to deliver significantly more than the other options, these forces are going to result in an ever-increasing vice grip of pressure. People mindful of where their money is going will be forced to look elsewhere.

Have they yet? Well, if the investors and earnings charts printed in the article are to be believed, you would have done better in an S&P 500 Index fund than in any one of our legal oligapolists (I LOVE that word)! Apparently, the ones holding the investment bag, those who must look down the road for the next big investiing tip, are NOT looking at the big three legal publishers.

And why should they? Take Westlaw for example. Thomson West had a fabulous opportunity to shift attention away from other search options with their new WestlawNext product. Instead of grabbing the limelight with a great product and offering more for less, Thomson earned press (in an increasingly-connected, hyper-critical, on-line social system) for being confused on pricing and actively hiding information vital to the calculus of whether WestlawNext was a value or a bust. You only get so many bites at the “apple” these days (yes, I intended that pun) so you really need to make your impacts hit big. Like Apple, for example.

As information becomes easier to identify, quantify and connect, Westlaw (and the other premium products) are going to be harder to justify. As I have said many times before, troubles at Westlaw and Lexis/Nexis might be difficult for the shareholders to digest, but ultimately, competition from the open Web and new semantic technologies is good news for the end user.

And, of course, we here in Gloucester know how to weather a “Perfect Storm,” so I’m not worried in the least.

Deep Web Research for 2010

DiggingWay back, almost a year ago, I posted about a paper presented by Marcus Zillman on deep web research. Deep web research involves getting below the surface layer of web pages to documents stored on-line with extensions such as .pdf, .doc, .xls, ppt, .ps. and other more esoteric extensions. These extensions and this type of searching are particularly applicable to business research, as companies tend to store their information in this manner.

Mr. Zillman has done it again – check out his list of deep web resources for 2010 published on LLRX.com. His comprehensive list includes articles with background information, tools, resources on the semantic web, presentations, pertinent blogs and lots of other great links. You don’t have to “dig deep” to find what you might be looking for with Mr. Zillman’s help!

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The Web's Missing Link

linkIt’s been a while since I mentioned on the Studio one of my pet subjects, the semantic web. But that does not mean that I haven’t been reading anything and everything I find on it. I found an interesting article published a few days ago at Government Computing News discussing worldwide databases and linked data and peppered with interesting information from Tim Berners-Lee, that crazy guy who invented the Web. Thought I might share it.

Berners Lee is discussing how the Web’s links can be further manipulated to astounding effect by coding data for the Web in a linked format. If this was to happen, the “‘net” effect would be a worldwide database that machines can read. The coding framework for creating linked data is called Resource Description Framework (RDF).  The BBC, BestBuy and eBay are among the early adopters of RDF.

The push now is for governments to take up the charge and utilize linked data to move us closer to the global goal. The value add is the difference between making the data available and making the data available for processing and manipulation and, thusly, far more usuable. Coding the data with RDF allows browsers and other applications to automatically pull that data from disparate web sites to make connections between concepts. For example (from the article), if you are looking at a desired address on one web page and then move to another web page to book a flight, the address information from the prior page will be automatically provided to you on the new page, without you have to cut, copy, paste or otherwise manually mark the data.

RDF works because it breaks that data out into elements that can be associated. The data gets three nodes – subject, predicate and object. Each element gets its own uniform web location via uniform resource identifiers. It works much like an extension to an HTML metatag, the stepping stones read by browsers inserted on web pages. The extensions could even be rendered like hashtags, a concept familiar to Twitter users. The hashtag would signal a universal concept that could be read by browsers and used to create the data links.

The concepts behind Linked Data and the semantic web are not easy for web developers and site developers, let alone the average Jo, to grapple  with. But the ultimate result will be a web experience that is simple and graceful. Machines will assist in making connections between data that the human operator may never have considered.  And to the researcher in me, that is a concept too exciting to pass up!

Forgive my geeky diversion! Let’s hope that some of our venerable web legal research resources consider taking up the charge by grafting some RDF goodness onto their data.

 

 

 

 

 

The Web’s Missing Link

linkIt’s been a while since I mentioned on the Studio one of my pet subjects, the semantic web. But that does not mean that I haven’t been reading anything and everything I find on it. I found an interesting article published a few days ago at Government Computing News discussing worldwide databases and linked data and peppered with interesting information from Tim Berners-Lee, that crazy guy who invented the Web. Thought I might share it.

Berners Lee is discussing how the Web’s links can be further manipulated to astounding effect by coding data for the Web in a linked format. If this was to happen, the “‘net” effect would be a worldwide database that machines can read. The coding framework for creating linked data is called Resource Description Framework (RDF).  The BBC, BestBuy and eBay are among the early adopters of RDF.

The push now is for governments to take up the charge and utilize linked data to move us closer to the global goal. The value add is the difference between making the data available and making the data available for processing and manipulation and, thusly, far more usuable. Coding the data with RDF allows browsers and other applications to automatically pull that data from disparate web sites to make connections between concepts. For example (from the article), if you are looking at a desired address on one web page and then move to another web page to book a flight, the address information from the prior page will be automatically provided to you on the new page, without you have to cut, copy, paste or otherwise manually mark the data.

RDF works because it breaks that data out into elements that can be associated. The data gets three nodes – subject, predicate and object. Each element gets its own uniform web location via uniform resource identifiers. It works much like an extension to an HTML metatag, the stepping stones read by browsers inserted on web pages. The extensions could even be rendered like hashtags, a concept familiar to Twitter users. The hashtag would signal a universal concept that could be read by browsers and used to create the data links.

The concepts behind Linked Data and the semantic web are not easy for web developers and site developers, let alone the average Jo, to grapple  with. But the ultimate result will be a web experience that is simple and graceful. Machines will assist in making connections between data that the human operator may never have considered.  And to the researcher in me, that is a concept too exciting to pass up!

Forgive my geeky diversion! Let’s hope that some of our venerable web legal research resources consider taking up the charge by grafting some RDF goodness onto their data.

 

 

 

 

 

Can Legal Information Be Semanticized?

You may have noticed that it has been unusually quite in the Studio over the past week. Extreme travel and excessive work have taken their toll on my blogging output. However, it is time, once again, to buckle down and plumb the depths of law, technology and cutting-edge research and writing tools.

Absence apparently makes the heart grow fonder, as my reader greeted me with an interesting article over at Law.com by Dr. Adam Zachary Wyner on legal ontologies and how they may “spin a semantic web”.  I have heard it said before that legal information is too broad and deep and resistant to organization to be put under the semantic knife, or more aptly “blanket.”  I was heartened to see that Dr. Wyner disagreed (sort of) with this position.

First, I commend Dr. Wyner on providing an excellent explanation of what ontologies, knowledge management and taxonomies are and how they interrelate. I learned a few new concepts reading through his summary.

Next, the problem for those of us anxiously awaiting semantic treatment for case and statutory law is indeed that there is little consistency in how these materials are presented, the wide variety of search need to be satisfied and the sheer volume of material produced on a yearly basis. Dr. Wyner sees this conundrum as well. Coupled with the fact that most text marking, the process by which information is overlaid so that a computer can “read” and calcaulate an answer to a semantic search, would have to be performed by humans in the legal arena, it appears that the desired result may be somewhat of an impossible dream.

However, Dr. Wyner correctly points out that there are some categories of information that are clearly defined across cases and statutes that could certainly be marked for organization. For example, in the case law context, case headings, party information, result, even statements of issues can be tagged, organized and converted to computer-readable form. Dr. Wyner even suggests means for treating the information: through Semantic MediaWikis, as a learning tool for researchers and law students, and through treatment by large scale publishers and government agencies and courts prior to publication. Dr. Wyner sounds as enthusiastic as I feel about the possibilities of incorporating this layer of information and what such treatment could bring to the legal researcher’s table.

I am relunctant to get too excited about the Big Two jumping onto the semantic bandwagon and spearheading the effort to “semanticize” the vast amounts of legal information in their stables. After all, where is their incentive? Nonetheless, I can’t help but smile a bit at Dr. Wyner’s excited undertone and the thought that bringing cases and statutes into the 21st century may not be as impossible a dream as Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

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