Tech Coast Review
The startup and tech news weblog for Southern California
Showing posts with label Search. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Search. Show all posts

Thursday, March 6, 2008

PreCYdent is a legal research tool that I am very excited was submitted for review. The idea behind the site is to enable everyone (not just the legal community) to search and find both case law and statutes for all matters. They are headquartered in San Diego, CA and have recently opened up the early alpha version of their software. Funding for the company is undisclosed.

The current state of legal research has two major players Westlaw and LexisNexis, Westlaw being the dominant force. It is practically necessary to have access to one of these two software programs to do useful legal research and both of these services individually license their product using heavy price discrimination which is downright exorbitant at times (often). Furthermore while the traditional software of Westlaw and LexisNexus is great at looking up cases which you have the citation to (a citation is generally how you find a case) as well as following the cases subsequent history (was the ruling upheld?, overruled?, is there conflicting law?) it is borderline useless in a generic word search (i.e. it is difficult to type in "lemon vehicle private party" and find out cases or statutes pertaining to lemon laws and private sellers of automobiles). In summary most lay people could not afford or efficiently use the major tools for legal research.

PreCYdent seems to be running on 2 main platforms, making their service able to effectively understand searches for words and to be free for all. These are both lofty targets to set your site on for this industry, with that said they both need to be accomplished ASAP. To make their word search tool understand what you are looking for they use a combination of an algorithm and user response (almost like Mahalo but with a defined niche for legal cases and statutes). In the few searches I ran I had significantly better search results with PerCYdent than that of Westlaw or LexusNexis, however my results were far from perfect. This can probably be attributed to PreCYdent only having indexed U.S. Supreme Court cases, and Court of Appeals cases.

There are other features offered on the site such as "finding lawyers," and "answering legal questions," but the community does not appear to be developed enough to make this useful, yet (they are still in Alpha mode so I will give them time). In short PreCYdent offers a very innovative idea and a useful tool which could enable all people to find the law and use it themselves. However if they are to become a dominant player in the market they have a lot of hard work ahead of them (including the active indexing of ALL cases). If PreCYdent can make legal searching both better and free they will have the ability to revolutionize legal search as we know it not to mention monetize their search traffic rapidly. All in all they have a great concept the only question will be if they can pull it off.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Early this year, serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis (of Weblogs fame) launched Mahalo, based in Santa Monica, Ca.  It's been in alpha since May, and I figured it was about time to give it a good rundown.

Mahalo is "a human powered search engine", which basically means they pay people to write custom search results pages. Think of it sort of as Google meets Yahoo Directory meets Wikipedia (in fact their technology is based off the Wikimedia engine). 

When using their site I did sample queries on everything from popular items like "ipod" to more obscure things like "Tech Coast Review". For the queries that did come up with custom results pages, I generally liked the format, its a nice cross between wiki informative and good links that you'd expect in search results. I personally also found the interface with a sort of soft Hawaiian theme quite attractive, although I'm not sure that it will have mass appeal.

But, I've got to say I don't think Mahalo will ever scale to the point of being valuable enough to displace a search engine.  I've seen Jason respond on some of the blogs that you get the best of both worlds, because Mahalo shows other search engine results if they don't have a custom page.  But my response is thats not good enough, I'm not going to waist my time using something other than Google unless its a heck of lot more useful to me.  If most of the time I'm just looking at Google results on Mahalo, then I might as well just stick with using the Google platform (to which we all are getting further and further ingrained with).  
And thats really the crux of it is that they have maybe 10,000 custom pages now and a goal 40,000 custom pages by the end of 2008, but compare this with stats that float around saying Google responds to a billion searches a day with over 25% being new keywords, and you have a startup the clearly is not trying to be a search engine.  So what is their real value, content?  Maybe, but they are currently employing 40 "guides" and paying something like 15 dollars per page written.  While I'm sure there are plenty of out of work screen play writers in Santa Monica that will try to make a few bucks, I still don't see the content getting to the place where it will have mass appeal.  Unless of course this whole exercise is a Search Engine Optomization play.  

Ultimately, for someone with such a "proven track record", I'm a bit disappointed.  Interestingly, Mahalo has gotten mostly favorable reviews.  The usually trustworthy TechCrunch gave a very flowery review, maybe as a results of Jasons partnership with them.  They even went so far as kicking a respected technologists off the TechCrunch 20 review panel for being too overly critical of Mahalo.  Even more interesting is that apparently the media is not the only one star struck by this venture.  Mahalo is so well funded apparently, that they can go 4 years without making a dime.  I have to wonder that unless Mahalo's business plan has some secret ace up the sleeve, the VCs might have been a bit too smitten with Jason's previous successes.  


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