Spurred by Doug Cornelius’s post on the Lexisweb beta, I decided to give the new kid a try.
I created a couple of scenarios and compared results in Lexisweb (LW) against CanLII (CL) and Google (G). Of course, I expected a certain variability in the results. CanLII has a deliberately limited scope, and Google extremely large. I expected LW to come in somewhere in the middle, as according to the user’s guide, there is deliberate selection of sources to be indexed. I’m guessing that otherwise, the process is automated, making Lexisweb roughly like MOSS or other enterprise search products.
The scenario I decided to test was looking for human rights/discrimination information in Ontario. The terms I used included combinations of “human rights”, discrimination and Ontario. I was hoping to see the Ontario Human Rights Commission and/or the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario fairly high in the results – either their decisions, web pages or commentary on same.
I started with Google.
Search string: (“human rights” OR discrimination) AND Ontario
The Ontario Human Rights Commission was the first hit, followed closely by an overview of the Ontario Human Rights regime by the Ministry of the Attorney General. Exactly what I was expecting.
CanLII – selected first for geography
Search string: “human rights” OR discrimination
No surprises here – way too many hits. A smart searcher would never go into this service with broad terms like these – add specifics from your case to yield a narrower, more useful search. I’m still waiting with bated breath for blog content (maybe even government websites) on here.
Search string: (“Human rights” or discrimination) AND Ontario
The first hit is a reference to a report out of New Brunswick. Although the User Reference Guide indicates that you should be able to filter by geography, that scope hasn’t been created yet.
Recognizing that this might be a bit complex for a beta, I changed the strategy.
New search string: Ontario “human rights”
Better, but still disappointing. The first hit is from Alberta. The first mention of Ontario is a decision by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, cited by a website in South Africa.
The filters look like they have the potential to be very useful. Some thought should perhaps be given to letting users see the list of “legal topics”, which sounds from the user guide like a controlled vocabulary. Knowing what terms are used in this area could make searchers more productive.
It might also be useful to be able to steer Lexisweb to particular sources – say, for example, in the searches described above, I know I want only HRTO decisions, it might be nice to run the search in the initial window, then narrow the search by choosing particular geography or sources identified in the results. I’m willing to be patient.
I realize that Lexisweb is created by automation, and that there is little human input into the way things are ranked. But, with a little program tweaking, it may be possible to distinguish between legislation, decisions and commentary, for example.
Would I be willing to pay for what I’ve seen so far? No, but it’s early days yet. I’m not sure how long the beta phase is planned to run, but I’d be very interested to see reviews from other searchers as time goes by.