SearchWiki from Google: a step in the right direction, but nothing new

Summary: While Google’s new SearchWiki won’t be an immediate benefit to lawyers, it may help them understand the value of commenting on and promoting content, which may lead them to want the same functionality inside the law firm.

Google announced SearchWiki on November 20, 2008. Simply put, SearchWiki is not a wiki. It is an add-on to the standard Google search function that allows you to mark search results as favorites and make a free-form comments about the results.

How it works. After performing a Google search, you’ll notice that there are three new icons near each result: (1) “Promote” – a box with an arrow pointing up to a horizontal line, used to mark a search result as a personal favorite (2) “Remove” – a box with an X, used to remove the result from your (but not other’s) future search results and (3) “Comment” – used to make personal comments, that you and others can see, about the search result.

Google SearchWiki icons

Google SearchWiki icons

After promoting or commenting on a search result, that web page will rise to the top of your future search results for the same search or other search phrases that include the result.

Nothing new. SearchWiki is nothing new, and I wonder just how useful it will be. Other web search engines have done it before: see my post on Scour (a.k.a Aftervote), which has similar promote, demote, and commenting features. The problem with these feature-rich non-Google search tools, like Scour, is that they are not Google. It is far more likely that people will use and enjoy new features in Google than to use a lesser-known substitute, like Scour.

SearchWiki also allows you to see how many other people have promoted, removed, and commented on a search result. Just go to the bottom of a search result page and click the link that says “See all notes for this SearchWiki.” (You can also see all of your own SearchWiki notes and add a result to the search if you did not see what you were looking for – OK this may be helpful.)

searchwiki-other-features

See other people's SearchWiki comments

In the example below, search results for “Obama,” there are 296 notes. Among those, the first result indicates that 103 people promoted it, 15 removed it, and 37 commented on it. Google says that the changes that you make only affect your own search results, but it is unclear if a significant number of promotions and comments alter (or will in the future alter) the search result ranking for everyone.

Google SearchWiki results for "Obama"

Google SearchWiki results for "Obama"

What does this mean for law firms? Other than being a nifty way to enhance your Web searches, what’s the impact on law firms? Well, as for Google’s offering, not much. But there are enterprise-class offerings that give you similar features. And these features in the enterprise are more than just nifty — they can be downright helpful; making it easier for lawyers to find the high-quality internal content that they need.

Apply the SearchWiki concepts to the content of the various systems in your law firm and things get interesting. You could promote, demote, and comment on documents in your document management system. But, to make it really useful, the user activity would need to affect other user’s searches. This would help separate the really good work product from the so-so work product — in a decentralized, “democratic” way, as opposed to the single-gate-keeper approach to managing content.

Interwoven Universal Search (IUS) does all that Google’s SearchWiki does, and more – but rather than applied

Interwoven

Interwoven

to the Web, it works with your firm’s internal documents and other content. IUS allows users to promote and demote content (either through a star ranking system or a thumbs up/down procedure), and make comments. Comments are key because they allow lawyers to learn aspects of documents that cannot otherwise be ascertained from the documents themselves. For example, agreements never indicate, in their four corners, whether they are favorable to one party or another; a comment about an agreement can indicate this type of valuable information.

IUS goes further than SearchWiki by allowing tagging of content for quick, easy, and personalized classification. Users of the popular social tagging website Delicious will appreciate the utility of this feature. Finally, IUS allows users to save search results into virtual folders. This is handy if you want to make a personal collection of favorite documents, but still make them accessible to the rest of the lawyers in your firm.

So, while Google’s new SearchWiki may not have an immediate impact on the way lawyers think about managing their content, it may be a step in the right direction. If lawyers become familiar with promoting and commenting on web content, soon they may want to be able to do it with their internal content, as well. It’s yet another example of how consumer-based web tools are shaping the way law firms learn from, and take advantage of, innovative new technologies.

LawyerKM :: Knowledge Management & Technology for Lawyers and Law Firms

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