2.6. Search engines on local sites
Where a law site is located though an intellectual index or in some other way,
this is not the end of the research problem, because it is then necessary to
find relevant material within that site. Few law sites have detailed subject
indexes of the contents of their own sites. If the local site has its own
search engine, this will allow the user to search over every word on the site
in order to find information `in depth' that might not be apparent from the
site's table of contents. However, even where sites do have their own search
engines, this does not present the end of the research problem for most users.
Some remaining problems are discussed below.
When you do find a site containing valuable legal information it will often not
have a search engine at all, so searching at word level is not possible. Of the
more than 50 non-US Internet sites around the world containing significant
quantities of legislation, less than half have any search engine. It requires
considerably greater technical ability to run a search engine than it does to
simply put pages of legal material onto the Internet as web pages where they
can be browsed.
Some search engines used on local sites will not have the full range of search
features that users find useful, such as proximity operators (`near', `w/10'
etc) or relevance ranking of results.
Even if a law site does have its own search engine, users who wish to find
legal materials on different sites can also be easily confused by the need to
use different search engines with different search commands. To this extent,
Internet-wide search engines are helpful, in that if they do index a number of
sites, at least all those sites can then be searched together using one search
One useful device to reduce the difficulty of locating multiple search engines
on different sites is to create a page which provides separate search forms
which will transmit a search to each local search engine. The local search
engine then displays the results in its usual form. To conduct a search using
another search engine, the user must return to the `multiple search forms'
The Meta-Index for U.S. Legal Research at http://gsulaw.gsu.edu/metaindex/ is
a good example of such a facility, providing search forms for numerous search
engines to search the decisions of US courts and legislative and other
Such `multiple search forms' pages do not inherently reduce the problem of
confusion caused by different search languages used by different search
engines, they only make it easier to find the search forms for different sites.
However, they may make it possible to provide a consistent set of explanations
about the differences between local search engines.
An extract from the Meta-Index for U.S. Legal Research at http://gsulaw.gsu.edu/metaindex/
Some limitations of such methods are that the necessarily
abbreviated search forms might not contain all the search options and
information available on the local site, and that there is no guarantee that
when search facilities and forms change on the local site that these will
necessarily be changed on the `multiple search forms' page. In summary, while
such facilities are convenient, they have advantages and disadvantages compared
with a page which simply provides links to the precise location of search forms
on multiple local sites.
Where sites do not have their own search engine, the ability to search them
from a central location has obvious advantages over merely going to the site
and browsing it. Sites which do not have their own search engines could also
utilise the fact that their site is searchable by the remote search engine. If
the search engine can be limited in its search scope to only their site, they
could provide its search form on their own pages and offer searches over their
The targeted web spider / limited areas search engine discussed in the last
section may provide a better research solution for users even when a site has
its own seat engine, for the following reasons:
- It allows all law sites which have been targeted to be searched with one
search, including those which have their own search engine. It is not necessary
to know that a site exists, or go to it, before searching its contents.
- It allows one consistent search method to be used to search all sites,
reducing the need to learn different search methods.
- The central search engine may have features not found on the local search