February 11, 2010
The Window of Opportunity for UI Development is Open: Who Will Create the Better Mouse-Trap for Using Secondary Legal Resources Online?
It's not like user interface development is bleeding edge but some of our very expensive legal vendors continue to dump yesterday's designs into our laps. The digital suckiness of secondary legal resources is to, ah, quote myself, "the major disappointment in WestlawNext --there is nothing Next in WestlawNext's functionality for secondary legal materials. Yet the long-term future lies in providing a premium-worth-paying search experience for the editorial content provided in secondary sources by NextWestlawNext and, probably, Newer 'New Lexis.'" Along this line of thought, Richard Leiter adds in his highly recommended post, The 21st Century Law Library Conundrum: Free Law and Paying to Understand It, "as West and Lexis see their revenue decline from sales to primary materials, they will (and are) increasing their prices for access to their secondary materials to make up the difference."
Are we, as institutional buyers, going to pay even more for still out-dated delivery systems based on antiquated database designs that continue to treat interconnected topical secondary legal resources as if they are discrete, unrelated files like court opinions? This might work for chopping up legal encyclopedias into itty bitty content slices but it doesn't work for supplemented multi-volumne treatises using contemporary hardware and operating systems.
Time, I think, to give pause to the challenge Jason Wilson tosses out to the duopolists and future legal publishers:
Having seen and used WestlawNext, it is a modern system to be sure, but it is also several years old already. And the new Lexis system will undoubtedly be much of the same. These systems are going to satisfy the vast majority of legal researchers tethered to the old mouse and keyboard, but we are fast approaching the point on the horizon where multi-touch, like search, becomes a big part of the debate on researching efficiencies. I can’t wait for this debate because I think it will provide opportunities for start-ups to create better mouse-traps for secondary source material.
A Wake-Up Call for Authors. Hello, authors of secondary sources. Milking the WEXIS cash cow is coming to an end. Print sales are declining and that momentum will increase in the 2010s if inflated pricing does not stop. Online usage will decline if WEXIS doesn't get its act together and institutional buyers are not holding their collective breath for that to happen any time soon. A window of UI opportunity is open. At the moment, BNA, in this author's opinion, knows how to do the job right for secondary sources using a website-based model. If Aspen gets its collective act together and does not follow the IntelliConnect platform, this little sideline in Wolters Kluwer could turn into a bigger player.
Start-ups most definitely can compete with the duopolists for online secondary sources if they (1) offer a better as in contemporary user interface; (2) strive for something less than 30-plus percent profit margin objectives; and (3) develop a well-rounded catalog of secondary legal resource titles attractive to law firms. Forget the legal academy; it's law firms who drive this market. Whoever hires a good UI design firm like the Nielsen Norman Group can win the marketplace. [JH]
In several different blog entries, I'm seeing that people are critical of the interface for viewing secondary sources on Westlaw or Lexis. I know how those interfaces work, but I don't see anyone suggesting a CONCRETE and SPECIFIC way to improve them. What should the interfaces look like? How should they work? Do the improved interfaces need to work more like books? If so, what are the technical requirements going to be? A larger screen so that a user can see two pages or four pages at once? Saying that the interfaces are "behind the times" without giving some type of specific way to change them is a generality so glittering that it blinds me. Could we have some concrete examples for improvement? Maybe we could hear about an interface that works better. Maybe a web site or search engine or at least a "vision" or concrete description how results would appear different.
Posted by: John Hightower | Jul 15, 2010 7:11:14 AM