FCIL Newsletter/May 1998
v. 12, no. 3
Top Ten Comments on Using the Internet for
The following "Top Ten" list summarizes comments made by FCIL
SIS members Gail Partin and Anne Burnett during a program of the annual
meeting of the American Society of International Law (ASIL), on April 3,
1998. FCIL SIS members Marci Hoffman and Jill Watson also participated
in the program, and numerous FCIL SIS members attended and contributed
tremendously to the exchange of ideas regarding the program's theme: "The
Challenge of Electronic Resources for International Legal Research."
#10 Seek and Ye Shall Find...Maybe! - search engines, browsing,
Those of us who use online commercial databases such as Lexis and Westlaw
are often frustrated by the inability to run complex boolean searches of
the Web using search engines. A recent CNN story reported that there are
over 300 million Web sites, and that even a good search on a good engine
will only retrieve 1/3 of the relevant sites. So, even with a good search
engine, used efficiently, you still need to be creative and flexible and
rely upon serendipity to find materials on the Web.
#9 Black Holes in Cyberspace - gaps on the Web
Sometimes we have to burst the bubble of an enthusiastic student or
faculty member who believes that everything is on the Web. Many times,
the Web just does not provide.
#8 Let's Get Organized!
Sometimes, gaps are not easily discerned because of the Web's unstructured
nature: Web directories, such as Yahoo, have attempted to provide subject
arrangement, but they include only a fraction of Web resources. There has
been much discussion of cataloging the Web, but the informal and transient
nature of the resources makes updating a nightmare.
Related to this is #7 Lots of Needles in a Haystack
The distribution of all these pieces of information to millions of locations
around the globe rather than being collected in a few key libraries can
be viewed as both a plus and a minus. Now, instead of having to call somebody
at the UN or Amnesty International to ask for a document, and asking these
folks to spend their time copying or faxing or mailing, one might find
and print these documents from the Web in a matter of minutes. So, the
storage and distribution responsibilities are disseminated over a larger
group of people. Of course, it still might be more efficient to just pick
up the phone and ask!
#6 Location, Location, Location - the peripatetic Web site
So, you've discovered a great site containing tons of useful materials,
and you've either bookmarked it or added it to your collection of links.
The next day you click on the link with great confidence, only to discover
that the site has moved. If you're lucky, you'll be automatically forwarded
to the new location or at least provided with the new URL. Or you may end
up searching for the site all over again. All of these options cost the
#5 Here Today...Gone Tomorrow
Web sites, especially the good noes, seem to drop out of cyberspace
altogether! Or they are "under construction" and not accessible
permanently. So, what will or will not be available fifteen years from
#4 Is the Internet Really A Free Lunch?
There are cost factors to consider... Some are obvious and direct such
as the growing number of sites beginning to charge fees: -flat fees for
membership, or -subscriptions, or -per document charges, or -per search
fees. Even when the site is free, there are indirect costs: -hardware -software,
such as browsers, plug-ins, and user training -communication costs, such
as internet service providers (ISP) And finally, there is still the cost
of the researcher's time, which can be considerable given the relative
disorganization of web-based information.
#3 You Get What You Pay for...
The web is like a wild frontier town. There is virtually no quality
control or accountability. It often requires the vigilance and persistence
of an investigative reporter or detective to discover the owner of a web
site or what their true agenda is. So, although we may get a site for free,
we cannot be assured of the quality, reliability and accuracy of the information
#2 Are We Shooting for the Moon? - heightened expectation levels
The Web can be an especially powerful medium for quick and relatively
inexpensive access to vast quantities of research information for even
the most remote areas of the world. It levels the playing field, so to
speak. But right now, and especially with foreign & international law,
there is much that is still unavailable electronically -- and may never
be available electronically. Unfortunately, researchers are starting to
expect everything to be "on the Web." This can lead to dangerous
conclusions by the uninformed -- "if its not there, the information
must not exist!" The mere existence of the Internet seems to stifle
full and complete research.
#1 Jump start with ASIL & the ERG
Web researchers are in desperate need of guidance and direction, as
evidenced by comments made during several programs at ASIL's annual meeting.
The ERG and ASIL are perfectly poised to fill that void...as a jump start
research tool ( a place to start) ....as a self-directed Internet guide
(a place to learn) ....as a quick reference source (to locate a discreet
piece of information) Perhaps the ERG's best contribution is that it is
particularly well-suited for instructional use. Access the ERG at http://www.asil.org/resource/Home.htm.
to the next article: "Meet us for Lunch in Anaheim!"
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