Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lexis Dumb Down?

Shortly after reading the posting yesterday about LexisNexis’s plan to strip Shepard’s of references to West headnotes, I learned about the new Easy Search feature that LexisNexis has introduced. According to LexisNexis, Easy Search is what researchers should use when they are “unsure of whether Terms and Connectors or Natural Language is the best search strategy.” With Easy Search, you can “let LexisNexis identify the best search engine based on the terms you’ve entered. Easy Search is optimized for 2-3 search terms and will recognize phrases in quotes as well as legal citations.”
These two discoveries got me thinking: Is LexisNexis purposely dumbing down its product? In the case of Shepard’s, LexisNexis says that only “15% of users restrict by headnote number.” Isn’t this a training issue? Wouldn’t it make more sense to instruct the other 85% of users in the benefits to be gained (i.e., greater precision, less recall) from restricting by headnote in Shepard’s instead of removing the headnotes altogether? I understand that LexisNexis is working hard to build up its own headnote system, but the fact remains that the West headnotes are the standard, quirks and all, and researchers are accustomed to using them. I agree that this move is likely to make Shepard’s less useful and drive users to KeyCite. I know I will share this news with my Advanced Legal Research students this fall and tell them that in my opinion it reduces the value of Shepard’s.
In the case of Easy Search, why should I let LexisNexis identify the best search engine for me? Is LexisNexis trying to emulate Google? Again, this strikes me as a training issue—students can be taught to use Terms and Connectors effectively. Most people agree that Terms and Connectors gives the researcher much more control over search results than Natural Language or Easy Search and yields more precise results. Why pander to the lowest common denominator?

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