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February 2005

A Round-up of Recently Launched Sites

By Robert J. Ambrogi

Interested in new tools for searching the Web more efficiently? Have any use for a free, multi-pronged legislative tracking service? Would you like to know where to reach a librarian online for no-cost help with sticky research questions?

These are some of the resources I have recently discovered on the Web. This column takes a look at these and others of interest to legal professionals.

Let's start with those tools for more efficient searching. Yahoo! recently introduced a beta version of a dramatic innovation in Web searching. Called Y!Q, it is contextual search technology that analyzes the contents of the Web page you are viewing and then gives you a list of search results directly related to that content. Yahoo calls it "an entirely new way to search."

In essence, Y!Q lets you skip the step of entering a query into a search bar. Instead, it analyzes the content of the page you are reading (or content you highlight within a page) and constructs a search based on that information. Then, instead of opening a new page of search results, it displays the results in a dynamic box within the current page. Y!Q can also be used through a toolbar available for Internet Explorer and through add-in extensions to Firefox. These add-ins enable you to use Y!Q from any Web page.

While Y!Q helps you construct more relevant queries, another new search tool helps you zero in on more relevant results. Called Clusty, it is not a search engine, in that that it does not crawl or index the Web. Rather, it is a software program that calls on other search engines, extracts the relevant information, and then organizes the results into a hierarchical folder structure, much like the folders in a Windows directory.

Search "employment discrimination" in Clusty, for example, and you notice something different. While the results appear in the center of your screen much like they do in other search engines, to the left of the screen is a list of expandable folders with titles such as Age Discrimination, Civil Rights, Sexual Harassment, Gay Rights and Employment Discrimination Lawyer. Clusty grouped the search results into topical folders, giving you a quick overview of the main themes and allowing you to focus in on relevant results more quickly.

Clusty is unique in other ways. Next to each search result are three icons that give you options for how to view the Web page. Click one, and it opens the page in a new window. Click another and it opens a preview of the page directly under the search result. Click the third and it shows you which of the topical folders contains that site.

Like Google, Clusty has tabs for searching news, images and shopping sites. Unlike other search sites, it lets you customize the tabs. Add tabs for searching blogs, Wikipedia or Slashdot. For lawyers, Clusty's ability to help hone in on relevant results makes it a useful tool for legal and factual research.

Now on to that legislative tracking service. Called GovTrack and developed by Joshua Tauberer, a graduate student in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, it recently won the grand prize in the Technorati Developer's Contest for developing a way to show what bloggers are saying about bills as they work their way through Congress.

But GovTrack monitors much more than bloggers. It tracks the status of federal legislation, the speeches of representatives on the House and Senate floors, voting records, campaign contribution summaries and more. Even better, you can define the issues you want to follow and then receive updates by e-mail or RSS feed. GovTrack gets its information from THOMAS -- the Library of Congress' legislative information site - and the U.S. Senate and U.S. House Web sites. But it does them all one better by allowing you to filter the information according to your interests and then receive it in the format you prefer.

If in your quest to research government information online, you get stuck, you now can get live, online help from a government information librarian through Government Information Online. This national pilot project, a cooperative effort of more than 30 libraries throughout the United States, provides a virtual reference and information service that specializes in questions concerning government information.

You can chat live with a librarian Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. central time, and Fridays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. central time. You can also send questions by e-mail and receive a reply within 48 hours. The librarians are all from official depository libraries that participate in the U.S. Government Printing Office's Federal Depository Library program. Many of the libraries are also official depository libraries for their respective state governments.

Another site that simplifies the search for legal information is the CORI K-Base, an archive of more than 25,000 contracts, 22,000 of them searchable, maintained by the Contracting and Organizations Research Initiative of the University of Missouri. Now, CORI has made the K-Base even better. On Feb. 16, CORI unveiled a new interface and search engine that offers full-text searches by key word as well as contract type, company name, filing date and industry code.

CORI's goal is to compile an extensive digital collection of contracts and make them available over the Internet. The collection so far is drawn primarily from filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission's EDGAR database, where company filings frequently include contracts of interest to investors. CORI downloads, extracts and categorizes these contracts and makes them available for searching. The result is quite possibly the Internet's best free source for contracts and clauses.

Finally, here are notes on other recently launched sites of interest:

  • sunEthics.com is devoted to legal ethics, judicial ethics and bar admission issues. Written and maintained by Timothy P. Chinaris, assistant dean of information resources at Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., the site's name comes from its focus on legal ethics in Florida, where Chinaris was ethics director of the Florida Bar from 1989 to 1997. But while the site features Florida, it does not ignore the rest of the country. Its collection of ethics-related links includes the rules governing lawyer discipline procedure for every U.S. state.
  • Electronic Discovery Law is a new blog from the law firm Preston Gates & Ellis devoted to reporting on legal issues, news and best practices relating to the discovery of electronically stored information. A highlight of the blog is that it includes a searchable case database on electronic discovery issues.
  • Kasunic.com is a copyright law and litigation portal maintained by Robert J. Kasunic, principal legal advisor at the U.S. Copyright Office. Kasunic has compiled an extensive collection of links to copyright, IP and litigation resources on the Web. The site also includes the syllabus to Kasunic's Washington College of Law course in advanced copyright law and policy, a collection of his articles and links to recent copyright-related news articles.
  • Recalls.gov, a one-stop shop for U.S. government recalls, is aimed at providing better notice of unsafe, hazardous or defective products. The joint creation of six government agencies -- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Food and Drug Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Coast Guard - it lists recalls in categories that include Consumer Products, Motor Vehicles, Boats, Food, Medicine and Cosmetics.

© 2005 Robert J. Ambrogi.