When 15-Day-Old News Is Too Old

How frequently do you use Google’s Advance Search function to ensure that you are getting the most recent information on a subject? I’ll answer that – pretty much every time I do a Google Search. And every time that I do a search that way, I curse the fact that I have to perform three extra clicks to make sure I am getting the latest and greatest information, particularly on ever-changing subjects, like technology.

In true Web 2.0 style, when there is a need, there will shortly be an answer. Check out NowRelevant (link here) –  a search engine designed for advertisers that leverages The Internet Time Machine to ensure that all results date back no further than 14 days from the date of query.

The Internet Time Machine software is a set of cloud computers linked to monitor supply and demand curves in search engines and online communities. The impetus behind the idea is finding new ideas and products that people are talking about and looking for, but unable to locate. For the casual user or researcher, this means very fresh discussions on your topic of choice.

NowRelevant was introduced in beta form in early May, 2010. It must be onto something, because shortly thereafter, Google introduce time filters in its sidebar, which are only accessible after your enter your search result. Tsk, tsk, still adding that extra step, Google.

Apparently, the quality of results is improved as well. The results filter out spam, SEO dummy sites and other forms of clutter. Per founder Curt Dalton:

“Another definite advantage we have over Google is that we have 0.0% junk sites in our organic results, end of story…. Nowhere on any other search engine are there as fresh and relevant results from blogs, mailing lists, and newsgroups as what we have. We cover millions of sources and have over 67,000 PR6+ blogs that we index daily.”

Check it out – you will definitely see a difference when you search your terms in Google and compare them to your results in NowRelevant. At the very least, NowRelevant should serve as an effective redundant search to ensure that you are getting the best, most recent information on your inquiries. Check out Mr. Dalton’s explanation and pitch below:

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Revisiting Deep Web Search Resources

It’s been a while since I talked about getting to “hidden” web documents. I figured it was about time to hit it up again – I like search and just love a good mystery.

The Deep Web (also known as the Invisible Web), for those unfamiliar, is the huge expanse of resources lurking below the reach of traditional search engines. Google’s minions cannot access content protected by passwords, or unfamiliar document extensions, or privately stored information. Over half of the estimated amount of Web content out there is attributed to this relatively untapped Deep Web.

I was prompted by the good people at MakeUsOf, my favorite tech for dummies web site. They just ran this great article compiling some of the current Deep Web diving tools (link here). The tools include Infomine (link here), the product of a consortium of libraries that taps stuff stored in databases, electronic journals, electronic books, bulletin boards, mailing lists, online library card catalogs, articles, directories of researchers, and other resources. The WWW Virtual Library (link here) is a venerable collection started by Web Daddy Tim Berners-Lee. Intute (link here) is UK-based and university sponsored, with topical content and human-curated links. Cool add – Intute has 60 free online tutorials on how to improve your internet search skills! Complete Planet (link here) also organizes by topic, promising to uncover hidden web content with advance search filters. Infopedia (link here) should be considered as a curated alternative for Wikipedia – it accesses encyclopedias, almanacs and other reference materials. DeepPeep (link here) offers a deep but transient look at forms across a limited spectrum of subjects. IncyWincy (link here) is a metasearch engine for the Deep Web, with the ability to set alerts. DeepWeb Tech (link here) offers access to five search engines as well as plug-ins, for medicine, science and business information. Scirus (link here) meets your DeepWeb scientific needs. TechXtra (link here) is all about the math.

Go. Search. Find!

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WestlawNext Preview: The Recap

So, how about WestlawNext? That new evolution in legal research? Is there really something to be excited about here?

As regular readers know, I attended the Preview breakfast today. The Preview consisted of an opportunity to watch various Westlaw rep put the product through its paces at stations and a keynote speech by a West VP of Sales. The speech was accompanied by a slide deck with moving graphics and screenshots.

Ever the geeky researcher, I took copious notes. I asked some questions during the individual previews, which were answered to varying degrees of completeness. There were no meaningful opportunities to ask questions during the presentation. So I figured I would share both my notes and my questions here.

Remembering that West intends to charge an undisclosed premium for this next evolution, this Preview was an attempt by West to argue why such a charge makes sense. There were three main talking points to this end: major search improvements improved organization and visual display; and, new work flow tools.

I was particularly interested in the search. The individual reps were unable to give me a satisfactory answer as to how the new “plain” language search is an improvement over the old “natural” language search. The main presenter highlighted West’s search goals: to improve search by accessing a broader array of databases automatically; to bring deep, relevant results higher in the list and bring them faster; to do the analytical evaluation encompassed within KeyCite, Results Plus and other tools behind the scenes automatically; and, to crowdsource the results of other professional searchers.

The new search language has no constraints with respect to format. The new algorithm takes into account 57 different points. In pursuit of relevancy, it accesses the more than 40,000 West databases without manual selection (although you can identify preferred databases). It examines terms used in key numbers associated with point of law suggested by the search. It will look countrywide for relevant related cases and common threads, and then employ concepts gleaned from this analysis within your specified jurisdiction. The same treatment is applied to Key Cite results – citing cases are examined for common threads, which are then run back through the selected databases. Finally, West taps into the searches run by other professional (not student) legal researchers – more than 500,000 transactions per day – to determine the documents yielded by searches employing the same terms and whether the researchers engaged in “meaningful transactions” with respect to those documents. In other words, did they print, Key Cite, email or copy with citation. Then the algorithm goes one step further and pulls other documents that are most frequently related to the documents treated by other researchers. The results are shown, by default in order of decreasing relevance.

Interestingly, there were little to no examples comparing a traditional Westlaw search with a WestlawNext search. Just a few conclusory statements that the WestlawNext search would yield a better result faster. Boolean is not gone, but one of the reps advised that WestlawNext is working behind the scenes on the broader connectors, so it is not a completely Boolean application.

New organizational tools include a foldering system that is fully searchable and automatically updated via Key Cite. The look is cleaner and more modern, with more white space and the ability to control formatting to optimize your viewing experience. When you click on a particular case, other Related Topics from the case are displayed in paragraph form along the right margin – you can access other results on those topics via clickable links. KeyCite is tabbed on the cases, and the results are filter-able.Results also can be filtered by relevancy, recency and other facets.

Workflow is improved as well. Docs can be downloaded, sent via email and, most recently added, sent to your Kindle. You can establish favorite databases. I am not sure whether these favorites affect the relevancy measure within results. There is also a link for “KM” – it accesses the firm’s own documents. an eyeglass symbol on a document means that the document had been previously viewed within the last 30 days for the same client ID. A folder icon on a case shows that the case has already been read and saved in a folder. You can access foldered documents without charge. Search history is now saved for a year (previously 14 days).

Editing tools allow the researcher to notate, highlight and save sections of cases with citations, with these edits saved online indefinitely. Coming soon: the ability to export folders of research content, with annotations, to others on the research team.

For what it is worth, as an experienced researcher delving regularly into similar areas of law, I know how to formulate both a boolean and natural language search and I am well aware of the databases I need. It is a rare occasion that I am plumbing an entirely new area of law. Furthermore, I already have adopted workarounds for the new foldering and annotating system – I save my downloaded docs in topic-specific folders and use my word processor to highlight and mark comments in the margins.

While I still have little questions, the big question for me is price. I was directed to my sales rep. The email I sent to her following the preview in which I indicated I had price questions remains unanswered. I know enough from my reading that there is a premium for WestlawNext, but no one seems to have a firm grasp on the amount of that premium. I imagine there are different premiums depending upon the size and nature of the existing contract and type of client. Hardly seems fair.

I know I am not the first commenter to say this, but I think that West is well off the track and making a huge marketing mistake. In my early days as a law student and lawyer, the only meaningful choice in legal research was Westlaw or Lexis. The Internet had not broken into the mainstream. Early web search was clumsy compared to West’s access to its own curated content. It made sense to pay extra for the service and we all paid dearly for it.

Now, internet search has met and exceeded Westlaw’s current search methodology. In a time when major corporations, the likes of Google and Microsoft, and other minor web developers are regularly trotting out amazing search feats and features and charging absolutely nothing for these marvelous wonders, Westlaw deigns to bring its product in many respects up to modern “free” standards and charge an undisclosed premium for it. Unfortunately, West has not properly read its audience – lawyers are becoming more tech savvy and are getting quite accustomed to receiving new and better tools for free. I know I am.

While I can comprehend paying extra for a vastly improved search algorithm (I don’t know this for sure as I have not yet had a hands-on), I find it difficult to “buy” an improvement such as better site organization, more “white space” and formatting controls. Shouldn’t such “improvements” be par for the course in a product’s development? Barring inflationary increases, car manufacturers regularly change the visual design of their products to keep them modern and add options without charging for these changes. Is West so out of touch with its customers that it believes they feel bringing the site’s look up to modern standards justify a price hike?

When a free product is measured against a pricey one, the reviewer cannot help but consider compromising on features in favor of cost wherever possible. As the free tools improve, WestlawNext is going to be perceived as the poorer option when all factors are examined.

While West touts its upcoming iPhone version, I have been accessing the free Fastcase service on my phone for weeks. This is not charge-worthy innovation.

Oh, and for the record, I overheard a Westlaw rep tell an attendee today that Westlaw.com will be phased out. Thus, the WestlawNext premium will become the new standard (increased) price point for West’s products.

I am sure I will have more on the subject after I activate my free access password (I will get a whopping three days) and after I get some clarification on my outstanding questions from my rep. For now, I have said it before and I will say it again – the jury is still out deliberating.

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Managing Your Buzz with Buzzzy Search

Love it or hate it, Google Buzz continues to capture attention. And with a huge built-in user base from the get-go, the content production continues to be prolific, even it if has slowed from its initially furious pace. The laundry list of improvements requested by users is quite long, but there is one that can be checked off. Configurable search.

Google Buzz does have its own search function, but it is quite simplistic. Buzzzy (link here) is its own, standalone search engine for Buzz and other services. Located at buzzzy.com, you can access Buzz content using a traditional search box from their site without navigating your Gmail inbox.  Buzzzy pulls results from Twitter and Friendfeed, Google Reader, Flickr and Live Journal and many other sources I didn’t recognize. Results are returned in chronological order or as close to it as the combination of posts and comments will allow. There are filtering options too, which makes it superior to Buzz’s own search function. And you can subscribe to an RSS feed of your search results so you can stay on top of your topic du jour.

Here is a sample search results screen for search terms apple ipad. Note the results filters along the left side:

Check out Buzzzy. You might like it.

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Westlaw Sings The Blues: Project Cobalt

Never able to let a mystery lie dormant, I spent some time this weekend digging into the dirt to find out about this West-branded next evolution in legal research. It’s code-named Cobalt and I managed to scare up a Thomson Reuters PowerPoint which hints at the features. It is fairly clear that Cobalt will offer a more Web 2.0 experience. Of course, its being billed as the best search engine for law and easy to use. It will promises “high velocity” results and  research workflow optimization. What interests me is a vague reference to “community insights.” Is West going to offer its own social aspects within the research framework?

Although it is not certain, there is a suggestion that the preferred search format will be natural language. Some are opining that this means no more Boolean. I will wait and see on that point before I assume the worst. I am hoping West is smarter than Bing in that regard. There is also a suggestion in the press that it will learn from the community – perhaps this learning hints at a semantic aspect (woohoooo!).

There isn’t a lot more to say at this point, but I will definitely keep my eyes peeled for more info. My inner cynic is moving aside a little to make room for a new hope that West will bring its service up to par.

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Bringing Web Search To New Depths

I am always looking for interesting ways to access deep web information – documents that are not necessarily html but are still accessible via the Web. Another player in this game is RefSeek, a search engine providing advanced search capability  and an index of over a billion documents including web pages, books, encyclopedias, journals, and newspapers. There is more than simply document search, though: RefSeek now offers definitions, math calculations, and a reference directory. Definitions show above regular search results with relevant links. Math calculations are natural language for math equations and conversion. And perhaps the coolest feature is the reference directory, which offers a curated list of hundreds of references sites, so you have NO EXCUSE to fall back on Wikipedia.

Hat tip to Pandia Search Engine News

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Semantic Research For The Rest of Us

Image by magerleagues via Flickr

While stumbling through the reader tonight, I tripped upon an article by Dana Oshiro at ReadWriteWeb about a new semantic search engine called Meaningtool and a semantically-inclined feed generator called Popego.

These tools will help you cut down the noise and pull in the signal based on your interests and intended targets. After completing a profile, Popego provides you with semantic recommendations based on your on-line activity and social circles. Once you generate what Popego calls your “interest platform”, you can find more quickly relevant content and connect more readily with others based on your interests. Popego’s customized feeds can be widgetized and shared on your other sites and blogs.

Meaningtool will analyze any website, pull out the relevant terms and create categories based on these terms, generating a tag cloud. You can click on any of the categorizes and further refine and “tree” the resulting information. Meaningtool recognizes most of the popular Western languages. Meaningtool’s Category Manager allows you to “train” your semantic feed via relevant RSS feeds to get better results.

Meaningtool is currently being used by marketing firms to better target customers with advertising campaigns, publishers looking to improve their search engine ranking, and semantic Web developers.

Like my6sense, the iPhone tool that pulls the cream from your streams to the top, you need to train Popego and Meaningtool to get the most out of them. With the dizzyingly large amount of content on the Web, a little training goes a long way to bringing you want you want to see.

For laughs, I fed my own website’s URL into Meaningtool to see what would happen. After the engine finished thinking, it showed this graphic:

Scrolling down, the results expanded to a tag cloud and suggestions to improve my SEO (which desperately needs improving):

Finally, the bottom of the screen showed the most relevant terms according to the listed classifiers from services like the New York Times, LA Times, Reuters, and Digg:

For certain applications, I can see this being a very effective tool.

Check out the Meaningtool video here:

Popego’s demo video follows:

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Searching Twice The Area In Half The Time

Research is all about efficiencies – you want to cover as much ground as you can in an effective manner so that you can provide the best answer. In law, the best answer should be delivered in a timely fashion, often by overwhelmingly-short deadlines.

How about splitting yourself in two and searching in two places at once? How is this possible? –  you ask, knowing full well the ethical implications of human cloning? Erica Wayne at Legal Resarch Plus has the answer: two different search functions that offer simultaneous searching!

Browsys offers the two tools: Twoogle and Twofind. Twoogle allows simultaneous searching of Google and Twitter (hence the clever name mash-up). From the site:

Twoogle provides an easy way to search Twitter and Google simultaneously, from the same site, displaying its results side by side.

Twoogle aims to make easier for people to get the best of two worlds: The realtimeness of Twitter and the relevancy of Google search results; it also provides a “Tweet these results” functionality, making it easy to share on Twitter with just one click.

Twofind allows the searcher to search two search engines simultaneously. The drop down menu on the search page shows:  Google / Bing; Google / Yahoo; Google / Twitter; Bing / Yahoo; Bing / Twitter; and, Video. The results display in two side-by-side windows within the main window, each with their own scrolling.  Since I am finding myself searching both Bing and Google these days more often than not, I love the fact you can hit one search query and get both sets of results at the same time!

Browsys offers other free features on their site as well. Their search function has a search box over tabs marked: Google; Bing; YouTube; Twitter; News; Blogs; Wikipedia; Facebook; Flickr; W/A; Ask Q&A; and, OneRiot.

Advanced Finder expands the engines accessed, including some of my semantic favs and visual search engine Searchme, with category breakdowns such as: general; images; video; news; social; files; reference; and, academic.

There is a tool called SidePad that collects all the big and little search sites one could ever imagine in the left column, and a window display area showing the selected site on the right.

Quiclip offers a notepad for drafting text and urls which then can be shared, tweeted, IM’d or bookmarked with a single click.

Browsys also offers virtual file space or folders for collecting and sharing information en masse.

I am always grateful to companies like Browsys developing innovative ways to access information on the Web and offering their resources for free! Happy searching!

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Why Just Search, When You Can Custom-Search?

Google, Bing, Ask, Hakia, Wolfram Alpha – nice information gathering tools to be sure, but do they really target exactly what you want you are looking for?

An often-overlooked option is creating a custom search engine that hones in on the sites and searches that you are most interested in. John DiGilio discusses the custom search engine option at LLRX in his article Bridging the DiGital Divide: Custom Search Engines Put You In Control.

DiGilio discusses two options: Google Custom Search and Rollyo (“Roll Your Own”) and mentions a third, CSE Links.

These tools allow you to direct your search at specific sites, include specific parameters and, essentially, cut loose the extraneous from your results. I have created a Google Custom Search engine that targets the websites of State Insurance Departments and related agencies and organizations, which is particularly useful for finding form filings and legislative news. I have compared results on my custom search site to general Google results and find the former more tailored and on-point.

If you find yourself searching the same issues over and over again and have specific results in mind, consider the custom search option and tap into that “do-it-yourself” aesthetic.

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Kumo is now Bing

As promised last week, Microsoft has trotted out its new search engine. It’s called Bing and you can find it here. PCMag has a great review and slideshow of the search engine here. True to its semantic genetics (including the Powerset search engine that Microsoft previously purchased and incorporated), Microsoft is calling Bing a “decision engine” rather than a search engine. Bing offers suggestions for related concepts and information, with answers to inquiries, rather than just links to other pages, offered right on the search results page. You can get even more information from suggested links when you hover over a result entry. You can get “deep” links, such as search boxes for FedEx or UPS tracking right on a Bing results page. Bing’s pages are not spare, but can include images of current events, landscapes or other “bling” (sorry – couldn’t resist 😉 ).

Rather than review each element of Bing and how it handles matters such as travel, shopping, images and video and news, I recommend you go try it yourself. Check out the PC Mag article linked above for a comprehensive list of features and the page slide show. While many web commenters are echoing the famous refrain “it’s not a Google killer”, Bing looks to be a promising hike along the evolutionary path away from the popular-by-number-of-links search option.

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