[Previous] [Next] [Up] [Title]

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.

2.6.1. Many significant law sites can't be searched

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.

2.6.2. Some local search engines have limited features

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.

2.6.3. Using different search engines can be confusing

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 engine.

2.6.4. Search forms for searches over multiple local sites

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' page.

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 materials.

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.

2.6.5. Targeted web spiders as a solution to these problems

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 own site.

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:

  • [Previous] [Next] [Up] [Title]