Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What a long, strange trip it's been

Nine years and a few days ago, I found Google. At the time, Erik Heels and I co-authored an online legal research column for Law Journal Extra, and periodically reviewed sites that we thought legal researchers should know about. One of the things I admire about Erik is the fact that he does a good job of keeping his old data (I do not), and it was a thrill to see this e-mail get re-sent to me nine years after I sent it (thanks, Erik!):

From: “Richard P. Klau” <rklau@redstreet.com>
To: “Kathleen Jackson” <—-@ljextra.com>
Cc: “Red Street Consulting” <info@redstreet.com>
Subject: site review: google.com
Date: Wed, 6 Jan 1999 17:56:36 -0500

by Richard P. Klau

A few weeks ago I looked at a number of search engines, and decided that HotBot was the best. Maybe I judged too soon.

Back in the early days of the web, the real interesting thing to watch was how sites built links to each other. Indeed, it was this very idea of links hat the word “Web” was used. And though many of the most popular search engines have done a good job at indexing most of the words on most of the eb sites, they haven’t really done a very good job of analyzing whether or not the search pages are in fact what you’re looking for. Sure, they use meta tags to identify key words, and sure they try and evaluate relevance, but the bottom line is that they’re not very good.

Enter “Google” (http://www.google.com/). Google indexes not only words on a web site but links on the web site, and then  uses the links to evaluate relevance. For example – do a search on “internet law” and Google will return 8000 hits, but will rank them according to both the frequency of the words and the number of links to that site. (The logic here is that a site with more links to it is more likely to be popular, and therefore useful, than one that nobody links to.)

In the results page, you see a number of things that appear differently than they do at the other search engines: a red bar that, if you click on it, will show you all the sites that link to this site. With many sites, you can click on something that says “Cached (fast!)”. Following that link pulls up “cached” copy of the web page – from Google’s domain instead of from the actual site itself. While the data may be out of date, you avoid seeing those 404 Errors if a page no longer exists – a really nice feature.

Another nicce touch is including your search terms in boldface in the results – rather than a keyword description or just the first few sentences of the text. This allows you to see whether or not the “hit” is in fact relevant to your query.

Overall, I found Google to be quick, effective, and much more powerful than its cousins. While I can’t say that it’s as thorough (only time will tell that), this is a great new tool that should, at the very least, lead to some nice improvements in other search engines. Competition is a good thing.

Holds up pretty well, actually.


  1. Yes, "only time will tell that." This is great stuff.

  2. More amusing is that a Google search for Internet law returns 39.5MM hits now. A Google search for "Internet law" returns 2.89MM hits now.

    I guess there have been a few developments since 1999.