1/19/11

Google Maps and a “Legal History Pin” Mashup

I was flipping through my RSS feeds earlier this week when I came across an article that discussed some of the Historical Google Maps Mashups. It was intriguing to see how something as modern as Google Maps could benefit from images of the past by using historical mashups like HistoryPin. It created a new layer of importance not only for Google Maps, but also brought relevance of an artifact to light in a way that compares the past to the present. As I sat there reading the review, and scanning through some of the images, I got to thinking about another way that mashing up two loosely related pieces of data could make for a new way of looking at each piece. Of course, being a legal researcher, I immediate started wondering if it would be possible to combine case law references to specific locations and Google Maps. Could we create a ‘legal history pin’?

As with the historical pictures, imagine being able to link out from a case you are researching directly to a map showing that location, and the surrounding area. Or, imagine doing this in reverse… looking at a map and seeing links to cases that discuss the location. I’m not sure if there is a significant legal usage for such a linking of two pieces of distinct information, but it sure sounds like it would be fun trying.

I brought this idea up with Ed Walters of Fastcase and we had an interesting discussion (or as Ed called it, “a geeky discussion”) of this type of Legal “Goggles” version of location, cases and history. How cool would it be to see references to case law as you are walking along the avenue? Ed specifically mentioned a Washington DC building with a significant legal history, so I thought I'd just randomly pick a location and see how a mashup might work.

Let’s say you’re looking at a map of N. Western Ave. in Chicago, or even better, let’s say you’ve pulled up your Google Maps app on your mobile device while walking along the 300 block of N. Western Ave. You see a building that's boarded up, but when you mash it up with legal history, you can see some of the history that lives in that building. A pin would show up on the map and you now see that it was the old Jewel Paint and Varnish Company, and you get a link to read about the case involving this building.

It’s probably a stretch to show how this would have any significant legal usage, but who says that cases should be limited to the courthouse? Just as the pictures of a bygone era help bring old data and new data together, so could the ability to link physical locations to the legal information available about that location. As an architect, historian or genealogist, it would seem that adding legal details to a location might connect them with pieces of information they may not have otherwise uncovered. Such as the obituary of the owner of Jewel Paint and Varnish Company in 1997.

At a minimum, it would be cool to be able to stand in a location and pull up legal references related to that spot. Who knows… perhaps viewing this type of information in a whole new way might bring out new legal arguments on present legal matters.

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2 comments:

Nicole said...

It may be a stretch but it might be an interesting tool to use from a Planning Law/ Land Use perspective?

wlyon said...

What about not just cases, but jury verdicts, settlements and other awards? I have in the past been asked to determine "typical" awards that match a fact pattern in a specific geographic area.

Also, I keep coming back to the notion that there are already a lot of law-realted statistics and other data being collected geographically. Think of the crime statistics reported by your local police department, or the "judicial hellhole" listings that come out once or twice a year. I wonder if tying them to a more robust mapping feature would offer anything valuable. What would we learn from the additional context and how would we use it?

 

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