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2. The problems of finding law on the internet

Despite the abundance of valuable legal materials already on the web, and the rapidity with which these materials are expanding, these materials are often very difficult to find, since they are scattered across thousands of web sites located all around the world.

Two types of tools - `Intellectual' and `robot' /automated indexes

There are essentially only two types of tools which help users find legal materials on the internet, `intellectual' indexes and `robot' or automated indexes.

* 'Intellectual' indexes, where individual web sites are classified by hand according to various classificatory schemes. Usually, such indices only provide the title, URL[3] and perhaps a brief description of each site indexed. Yahoo![4]http://www.yahoo.com/] is a well known example of a general intellectual index of the web (ie one which is not law-specific).

* `Robot' / automated indexes, where a program (variously called a `web robot' or `web spider') traverses the web, downloading every page it encounters, so that every word on every page can be indexed by a remotely located search engine. When the search engine displays a URL as a result of a search, that URL is to the original site, not to a mirror on the remote site. Alta Vista[5]http://www.altavista.digital.com/] is perhaps the best known general example of such an `internet-wide' search engine that searches an index created by a web spider. The principle advantage of this approach that it is possible to search every word that has been indexed, not just the titles and brief summary of what is on the site.

Why legal research on the internet is difficult

Despite the existence of these research aids, finding legal information on the internet is difficult, for at least the following reasons: So the problems of finding legal materials world-wide are that it is both difficult to find which useful sites exist for a particular country or subject, and also difficult to find what is on such sites as are known. These research problems are very substantial even for the most expert `internet savvy' lawyers and law librarians. They are much worse for inexperienced users. 2

[3] `Universal Resource Locator' or internet address of a web page



[6] See for many examples.

[7] Email from John Pike, webmaster of the American Federation of Scientists, quotes confirmation from Alta Vista that 600 is about the maximum for any one site.

[8] For example, on Alta Vista, a search for Vietnamese legal materials requires a search which is limited to materials which are located on a server in Vietnam (the `domain:vn' delimiter) or contain `Vietnam or Viet Nam' - and this is still somewhat hit or miss.

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