Last Friday I had a chance to talk with Google Scholar Chief Engineer Anurag Acharya. The 90 minute talk (recast available via The Law Librarian TalkBlogRadio) answered a lot of technical questions about Google Scholar Legal and Online Journals (SLOJ), but it was some of the unanswered questions that I found interesting. First of all, let me address the questions that I’m sure a lot of you have been asking:
“Can Google Scholar Legal and Online Journal replace my Westlaw or Lexis content?”My answer: “Absolutely Not!”
In fact, the people at Google would tell you the same thing. It is just not what they are planning to do with this product. Now that I got that out of the way, let me explain what I learned in the interview and you’ll see why I’m not confident in SLOJ competing with Westlaw, Lexis, or even the upcoming Bloomberg Law (which I’ll call “Wexisberg”).
Not Enough People on Project
First of all, Google Scholar has three people. Not just on the legal portion of Google Scholar, there are three people total on the entire project. Maybe you’re saying to yourself that since Google is a search engine, maybe three people are sufficient on a project like this. In my opinion, three of the smartest legal database people in the world, combined with the power of Google might make a great resource tool for legal research, but not a competitor to the existing Wexisberg products.
No Legal Research Experience
This brings me to the second reason that this project won’t compete with Wexisberg. None of the three people that Google Scholar has on this project have a legal research background, and at most are only familiar with some of the basic principles of how legal research is conducted. They are super-smart, highly educated folks with out of this world mad skills on creating great ways of searching and retrieving vasts amounts of information using the simplest of searches. But, they are not legal researchers, nor do they claim to be legal researchers. This project is focused on the way “Scholarly” research is conducted, not how “Legal” research is conducted. Again, Google SLOJ is not claiming they are… but, I know a lot of people who wish they would!!
Focus is on Improving Search Not on expanding Content
Throughout almost the entire interview, Anurag Acharya talks about how they are focused on making the search results better. The content found in Google SLOJ was either purchased or leased from third party vendors. Google specifically said that they would not disclose who they got the cases from, but Anurag did say that this vendor would also update the cases as new decisions were released. However, there are no immediate plans to expand into areas such as statutes or regulations because of the dynamic nature of such publications. Google SLOJ is sticking to the cases, and the legal scholarly work (law journals, etc.) only because these are viewed as static documents that do not change once they are published.
No API Will Be Offered
The fact that Google does not have an API to interface with Google SLOJ, nor does it plan to develop an API, is not surprising. My guess (and that’s all it is… a guess), is that the agreements between Google and the third-party providers prohibit Google from using an API to distribute any of the documents it indexes. Now, if some ingenious Geek somewhere were to develop a pseudo-API that would allow you to tap into Google SLOJ through another product…. well, that’s another story for another time….
Google SLOJ – Enjoy It for what It Is
We’ve all become used to using Google to do ‘quick and dirty’ research. Google SLOJ is another piece of the total Google search universe. It is there to get you something quick… something free… and sometimes will be exactly what you need to answer a research question. However, it is not a Westlaw or Lexis replacement. If you try to view it as such, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. That doesn’t mean that it can’t get better. In fact, one of the best things I came away from the interview with was an email contact that librarians can used to submit suggestions on how to make Google Scholar better. If you see something that needs work, or have a comment or suggestion on how something could be better, shoot an email to email@example.com. Maybe, if your suggestions are good enough, you could be that fourth person on the Google Scholar team!!