Archive for the 'Technology Reviews' Category

More on Filter Bubbles

See the May issue of Mary Ellen Bates’ Bates Info Tip article “Getting ‘Pure’ Search Results”  for tips on getting out of the filter bubble discussed in Jocelyn Stilwell’s post.

And for another take on bubble bursting see the article in the May 27 Washington Post’s Lifestyle “Can games burst the filter bubble?”

 

All About Filter Bubbles

by Jocelyn D. Stilwell

Two weeks ago, I didn’t know what a filter bubble was. Last week, I was in a Filter Bubble focused filter bubble. Here is what happened: Two of my Facebook friends posted a link to the same video. These were two friends who don’t know each other, and who I know from totally different parts of my life: one was a good friend in high school, and is now a journalist; the other is a friend of my husband, and is an IT guy. This kind of link overlap happens very rarely on my Facebook account, and has never happened with these two friends before. And this information is relevant because of the content of the link they were sharing. It was Eli Pariser’s TED presentation on Filter Bubbles – all about the dangers of getting your news and information from websites that filter information to your personal tastes.

I was driving to our Sacramento office the next day, and information on this subject popped up again. Pariser was on the local NPR station’s “KQED Forum” program. As they were talking, someone mentioned that his talk kept showing up in her news feed and he said:

“It sounds like you’re in a Filter Bubble filter bubble.”

So I know I’m not alone. And like the opposite of irony, my exposure to the concept is an example of the concept. I know a lot of people who care about information dissemination, and I care about it too, so interactive abyss of the internet throws me information on it, as do my news sources, and here I am passing it on to you, in case we’re not in the same bubble.

Here are the things that I’ve taken away from the talk and interview: Pariser says that our online lives tend to reflect our own beliefs back at us. That makes it hard to break out of your own point of view: the personalization of the web obscures facts you should know about, masking them with your social circles’ opinions. Pariser’s analysis of this in his TED talk and the NPR interview focuses on social awareness and the impact on voter opinions and citizenship, as you’d expect from one of the founders of MoveOn.Org. I wonder how it impacts our lives as librarians.

Pariser further observes that being aware of this problem is one step towards solving it, which isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Search engines and social media companies don’t have disclaimers to let you know they’re filtering and personalizing the information you see. As a result, Pariser is encouraging online companies to rethink their personalized algorithms and provide either an opt-out option or an “unsuggester,” tools that would let the user know his or her content is being edited in the first place, and provide them with tools to work around that. He’s right that we don’t always know the degree to which information is personalized online. For example, I knew my Facebook results have been altered and edited based on what I click on. But I had no idea that Google has been personalizing web search results.
What does this mean to law librarians? Here are a few of my thoughts. I think that the personalization is good in our professional lives – for the most part. And I think that we’re adding accuracy to our patrons searches with our good search techniques and by clicking on factual and good sources (or we should be). Google knows a lot about my search patterns, because I keep my to-do list in Gmail’s tasks application, and I have it open all day. You’re welcome, Google. I assume that anyone searching from my IP address, and possibly anyone searching from any location of my firm, has had their results influenced by my search patterns as well. As a librarian, I usually go for the best and most authoritative site when searching for information, and I’m sure that the document search pages for various superior courts have been given unnatural significance for our firm’s network thanks in large part to my unwitting efforts.

However, if I happen to habitually click on the wrong thing when using Google, it has ripple effects that I had no idea about. And frankly, I’m not sure how much my home-based searching might overlap with and influence other people’s work searches (it seems pretty unlikely, come to think of it – we don’t do legal work for “Dancing with the Stars”). Another downside to personalized searching relates to trying to get outside of your own point of view. For example, if an attorney is trying to find information on a subject from the Plaintiff point of view if at a Defense firm, and vice-versa, personalized searching may bury the very information they’re looking for.

And going back to Pariser’s main point – the negative impact of filter bubbles on news searching. News searching is a big part of my work life, and I have no idea how personalization is affecting my news searching. As an information professional, I tend to believe that news sources are not as rich or as deep as they used to be, even ten years ago. The staff cuts at traditional print publishers haven’t been balanced out by free online sources. Given the shrinking number of news outlets, finding and reading ALL the articles on any given thing is a much less daunting task than it once was, so depending on the depth of coverage in your search area, filter bubbles may not be an issue.

Overall, if I had the option to opt-out of personalization, I probably wouldn’t use it at work.

Do any of you have thoughts on how the filter bubble effects libraries and librarians? Maybe you have observations about the down-stream effects of this kind of web searching? In a way, it reminds me of something that happened when I was hosting a WestlawNext orientation with our firm rep – we got a result that wasn’t relevant, and an attorney asked how to avoid it. After a few minutes of “well, you don’t click into it, you have enough information on the main page to make that decision” from our WestlawNext rep, I ended up reminding the room that no matter how much computers can help us “You are always going to be smarter than the software.” And you are – but the software is getting better at telling you what you like to hear.

The real challenge may be keeping our perspective and knowing when to look outside of our filter bubbles for a fresh point of view. This skill is necessary to make sure our future selves are smarter and better informed than our current selves – a goal I think we all share.

Review: QR Coded “Tour of the Law Library” from CALI

A little while ago I spied an advertisement in my mailbox from a purveyor of fineries, the likes of which I can seldom afford though it does not deter me from ogling. On the back of the advertisement was a curious square shaped code, and I’ve since noticed this code popping up in magazines, advertisements, and recently during a television broadcast.

What I’m referring to is a called a “QR Code”, and even if you’re not sure what they are I’m sure you’ve seen one or two by now. These codes resemble black modules arranged in a square shape on a white background- and most frequently they contain links to websites and sound files.  They also require a barcode scanner on a mobile device in order to decode. To me these codes seem like the millennial equivalent of ciphers and decoder rings, but it’s a technology that is catching on very rapidly.

Here’s a QR Code that links to an online article about QR Codes :

qrcode

CALI (or the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction), has recently unveiled a new feature which applies the functionality of QR Codes to legal instruction. CALI calls it a “Tour of the Law Library” and they employ QR codes linked to sound files in order to disseminate information about a legal title to a prospective user of the title. These codes and the transcripts of the sound files are all contained on a website, http://libtour.classcaster.net/, the codes can be copied and printed, and ideal placement of these codes would probably be near the legal resource the code itself seeks to explain in greater detail. I imagine that the codes could be combined onto a master list of resources as well.

The titles that CALI has QR coded are:  USCA/USCS, West’s Digests, Corpus Juris Secundum, AmJur, CFR, ALR, and Uniform Laws Annotated. Also CALI has encoded more generalized discussions entitled: Study Aids and Law Library Reference Sections.

I’d like to examine this exciting new resource based on three criteria: Audience, Content (of audio file) and Ease of Use.

Audience:

I think I can safely say that I was asked to review this resource due to being an aficionado of new technologies and not necessarily as an experienced leader of a voluminous academic law library. I work in a small county law library where I could literally throw a paperclip from one end of the building to the other, while seated. Though CALI is an organization that is primarily focused on academic law libraries, they have expressed an interest in seeing other  libraries use and adapt their QR Codes. As such I forged ahead with reviewing the technology with no preconceived notion as to its intended audience, but as I had my staff members and the staff members of the law library in the next county over scan the codes and listen to the audio presentation I was left with the distinct impression that CALI’s “Tour of the Law Library” is best suited for an academic law library setting.  For instance, here is a passage from the Study Aids section: “To supplement your casebook and in-class notes, you might want to use a hornbook, nutshell or other study aid.” The language of the specific resource reviews also mirrors the instruction style of academic law librarians as well; I fear that some practicing attorneys may dismiss the audio tours as being overly simplistic and maybe even a little belittling. Here’s a passage from the AmJur Tour: “AmJurs are commonly used in first-year legal writing assignments”. I personally know a few practicing attorneys who still like to review AmJur articles and may take offense at being told their preferred resource is most suitable for a 1L.

While I do believe that QR coded resource explanations could be beneficial in public law libraries and even larger firm law libraries, I think that the transcripts may be in need of a little tweaking in order to appeal to attorneys and self-represented litigants.

Content:

I briefly discussed the content of the audio file in the “Audience” section, but I very much like the structure of the resource explanations- even if that explanation is more suitable for an academic law library. Each explanation includes an introduction of the resource name and shortened name, description of the indexing, organization and content of the resource, source type, resource scope, and discussion of similar resources. The authors of these explanations provided an all-encompassing picture of a specific legal resource in a very short amount of time- which is no small feat. However, some of the descriptions are over two minutes long and I fear that people with short attention spans may lose their focus after the first minute (which may or may not have happened to me). My staff members, however, thought that the length of explanations was appropriate given the complexity of the resources.

Ease of Use:

QR codes themselves are pretty easy to create and use- however some smartphones have a more difficult time than others in linking to an audio file after scanning the QR code.  My android phone made easy work of it the first time, however when I revisited the site a few days later to scan more codes my phone browser would not link to the audio file, it just redirected me back to the original link. Many of my colleagues had similar problems but some of these problems were resolved by restarting the phone, updating mobile browsers, or downloading a new scanner program. So I’m confident in asserting that all technological problems with this service will be on the end of the user and their particular phone or mobile browser as opposed to CALI.

Bottom Line:

CALI’s QR coded “Tour of the Law Library” shows great promise for use in academic law libraries, however the resource explanations are not as relevant in other law library settings. As smart phones and their barcode scanner programs become the norm I look forward to seeing how QR coding can be applied to all law libraries.

qrcode

(Vanessa Uribe, MLIS, El Dorado County Law Library)

BNA Labor & Employment Law Resource Center™

In August of this year, the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (BNA) rolled out a new platform.  The BNA Labor & Employment Law Resource Center™ is the first in a series of area specific resource centers BNA plans to launch.  With this new resource center, BNA developers have coupled the legal research areas, such as cases, statutes, regulations and the like, with news information.  The purpose of the resource center is to provide users with a platform where they can find the most update and accurate information related to the areas of labor and employment law.  I was granted access to the site and can say BNA developers and editors accomplished their task.  The platform has integrated news with case law updates and core research.  Whether you are a skilled practitioner or a law student, the resource center is a great place to learn about, become familiar with or be updated on labor and employment law.

BNA has managed to compile and stream line a wealth of information in one place.  The new platform took what users found on BNA’s Labor and Employment Law Library and added to it analysis and insights from some of the leading experts in the areas of labor and employment law.   The platform houses in one place much of the information that would normally take of shelves of library space to cover.

One way BNA is continuing to be leaders in the industry is by adding what they call BNA Insights to the resource center.  With BNA Insights, BNA has teamed with outside legal practitioners who provide a series of articles and videos that deal with and focus on hot topic areas.  The Insights give a unique perspective and are updated as the authors discover new and emerging trends in law and employment law.

In addition to the mountain of information at hand, BNA has made the site easy to navigate.  The top ribbon has tabs for easy maneuvering ranging from disability law to occupational safety.  Each tab is topic specific so that users can more quickly and efficiently find what they are searching.  Each section has been tailored to the particular area with the most pertinent information appearing first.  Along that same line of reasoning, users are able to search by citation or keyword to find cases.  This search technique can be found on the home page as well as within each tab.  The BNA Insights also appear within these areas.  Although they have not been formatted to be area specific, the utility they bring gives BNA another leg up on the competition.

Another added bonus and convenience is the inclusion of a practice tools section.  BNA has added a number of tools to assist practitioners in their day to day task or for students who are learning the tricks of the trade.  These tools consist of forms, checklists, client letters, and others that will produce more efficient work flow.  The tools can be easily accessed from the home page, but most importantly from the topic specific tabs.  The practice tools section in each area informs users of what information is available for that specific topic.

With this new platform, BNA has once again set itself apart from the rest.  The site is easy to use and full of relevant and timely information.  Subscribers can purchase an all inclusive package or can tailor the packages to meet their specific needs.  Users of BNA’s Labor and Employment Law Library will still have access to all of those contents plus the numerous other perks and benefits of the Resource Center.

Tiffany R. Paige, JD, MLIS

Acquisitions Librarian, Mississippi College Law Library

Review: Wolters Kluwer’s IntelliConnect® Enhancements

IntelliConnect® is the online search platform powered by Wolters Kluwer.  In early July, Wolters Kluwer released new enhancements to its IntelliConnect® research system in response to customer needs.  The added features are there to produce answers faster and more efficiently than before.  The interface has over 1 billion documents and to date, serves more than 160,000 people.  While at the AALL Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, I was given the opportunity to take a look at live demonstration of the new enhancements with Executive Director of Product Development John Defoe.

To start, users will see and be able to use the new features added to the homepage.  When users log into their IntelliConnect® interface, they will notice the “Browse tree” is now housed in a separate pane on the left hand side of the home screen.  In addition, it opens automatically giving users full and quick access to subscription content.  Users will also find that at the top of the browse tree there is a “Favorites” link that expands by default.  Arranged alphabetically, Favorites give researchers quick access to the content and services that they most often use.  As stated before, the link opens automatically but there is a preference section that allows user to have Favorites closed by default.

Other enhancements include a “Practice Areas” and “Titles A-Z.”  The Practice areas link is at the top of the browse tree.  To begin, the link is initially “all practice areas,” but is transformed to “selected practice areas” when you tailor your needs to specific areas.  To be even more helpful, the search scope is then changed to “selected content.”  Furthermore, the pop up window for selected areas now has a “select all” command at the top, which provides the added convenience of allowing users to select all needed content.

The new addition of “Titles A-Z” allows users to quickly and easily access all titles that are offered on the platform.  The titles are listed alphabetically.  Needless to say, you will only have access to the titles that are apart of you subscription.  Titles outside of you subscription will still be listed, but will not be hyperlinked for access.

There were a few other smaller enhancements that I want to briefly touch on now.  First, they have now included a “Relate” button to a selection of documents.  This feature allows the user to find other content that relates back to the original document pulled up.  For example, when researching a federal statute, the relate button will return committee reports, regulations, and the like.  The related content will appear in a separate tab for quickly referencing the original search, while simultaneously running the related content.

This separate tab feature leads me to the next enhancement of increased search sessions.  Users are now able to conduct up to eight search sessions at one time.  Originally only five sessions could be run.  Now, users have more searching capabilities and each session is running in its own tab.  Users can close out each tab individually or all at once with a single click.

The last smaller enhancement I want to discuss is the improvement to its print function.  Users can now select, highlight, and print selected text from documents.  As an added bonus, the title of the document will also appear on the printed page along with the text selection.

All in all, the enhancements to IntelliConnect® are time-saving and provide users with more efficient searching.  The improvements have also created a much better homepage experience.  More content can be found on the home page which provides more functionality.  Additionally, for those who may need a refresher from time to time, tutorials and training links can be found on the homepage.

Tiffany R. Paige, Esq., Acquisitions Librarian, Mississippi College School of Law

Review: American Dreams App for iPhone & iPod Touch

Multieducator Inc. American Dreams—Speeches and Documents in US History for iPhone OS 2.2 or later and iPod Touch second generation or later. Updated March 1, 2010.  Current Version 1.04. 43.8 MB. $2.99.

The American Dreams app for iPhone and iPod Touch is a portable library of primary source documents and audio files related to United States and North American history.  The app contains 480 documents including the Constitution and its Amendments, 90 U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and all of the presidential inaugural addresses.  The range of documents is quite broad, reaching back in time to the Mayflower Compact and Samuel Champlain’s account of the founding of Quebec City in 1608 up to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Roper v. Simmons (2005) and President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (2009).  The app also has 18 audio files—twelve presidential inaugural speeches, five other significant presidential speeches, and Neil Armstrong’s fabled pronouncement, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The app’s best feature is its content.  I especially like the audio clips; speeches, after all, are meant to be heard.  Standouts include a Theodore Roosevelt campaign speech from 1912, the first FDR fireside chat (on banking), and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.  Be forewarned that some of the audio files provide only an excerpt from the speeches.  I like that the app provides a brief description for the documents and audio files (although for some I wish the editors had provided more information).  Click on the arrow on the right of the document name to access the description.

Navigation is easy.  The table of contents organizes the documents and audio files by historical period/decade (e.g., The Colonial Period; 1860 to 1869) and by document and file type (e.g., Supreme Court Decisions; Audio Recording [sic]).  Users can locate documents by performing keyword searches in the text, title, and description of documents, but it would be nice if the app highlighted the keyword in the text.  Users can bookmark files using the “Favorites” feature and find recently reviewed documents with the “Recents” feature.

The app has several problems, however, that need to be rectified.  The text is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors like “Presdienet Reagan’s,” “John Adam,” and “founded” instead of “founding” that make the app look sloppy.  The descriptive information for some audio files is missing.  The text of the 27th Amendment is incomplete and smaller than the text of the other documents.  The app names files inconsistently: some inaugural addresses of two-term presidents are named according to year (e.g., George W Bush 2001 Inaugural Address), while others are named according to whether they are that president’s first or second inaugural address (e.g., George W Bush 2nd Inaugural Address).  The text of the documents is small and cannot be re-sized.  The app does not let you take notes or highlight the text.

I have a few more, less significant quibbles. The name of the app—American Dreams—is a bit odd and does not provide an apt description.  I would prefer that the app come with more in-depth descriptions and timeline features, putting the primary source material in context and making it more accessible to a general audience.  In addition, since the iPhone and iPod Touch are multimedia tools, I would love to see more multimedia content in the app including images, video, and audio.  More multimedia would make the app more appealing, albeit pricier.

Despite its flaws, American Dreams is a fun app for people who want to have primary source historical documents in their pocket.  The $2.99 price is reasonable for what you get, and presumably Multieducator will correct the errors I mentioned above.  People who have trouble reading small script should avoid this purchase.  If you are interested in American Dreams, you should also take a look at the U.S. Historical Documents app ($.99) by Standard Works LLC which offers a smaller collection (200) of historical documents, some of which are not in American Dreams, along with the ability to highlight and take notes in the text.

Iantha Haight is a Research Attorney and Lecturer in Law at Cornell Law Library in Ithaca, New York.



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