I’d like to offer a few more predictions about Thomson Reuters Legal’s (TRL) latest version of Westlaw, known now only as Project Cobalt:
- Default search will not require Boolean connectors, however, the user will be able to switch to Boolean. I wouldn’t be surprised to see users run the same search with and without connectors just to compare the results. The user will expect the same results, and this is where I think education will be important. The results should be different with natural language processing, meaning better because it will undoubtedly be supported by semantic and sentiment analysis. This should yield better, more accurate search results.
- Search queries can be targeted to specific databases, but the menus will be consolidated. For example, I suspect law reviews will be collapsed under a single directory, and if the user wants to narrow the search to a specific journal, she will just type the name of it in the search box along with other search terms. Perhaps similar to Google’s “site” search feature, except more flexible.
- Search speeds will be significantly faster, but will probably still be throttled to maintain uniformity of user experience at all times of the day.
- Faceted search will finally make an appearance.
- Results Plus will be more tightly integrated into the search results. I don’t see this as a separate application any longer because the user needs to be able to appreciate, visually, the relationship and ranking of Results Plus hits to her primary search query. This may help drive in-platform upgrades.
- A “Westlaw Store?” I wouldn’t be surprise to see TRL borrow from Apple and allow users to set up a store account and to buy one-off access to books and databases in an effort to increase conversion to higher tier plans. How this could be accomplished without completely infuriating sales reps, I have no idea.
- I agree with Joe Hodnicki that I think we’ll see pricing packages similar to Microsoft, with TRL Solo, Small Law, Large Law, and Academic packages. I’m sure the matrix will be more complicated than this, and the need for publications outside of these packages might be satisfied by one off purchases through the Westlaw Store.
- Maintenance fees? Once you purchase a package, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a yearly maintenance fee as part of the offering. This is a common practice in the software industry, and can be adjusted by TRL every year, most likely based on your usage (which will still be heavily monitored).
- Free web results. The user will now have access to blog posts, law firm articles, etc. and will be able to click through to the them (meaning outside of TRL’s frame). I suspect these click throughs and leading content will be used as part of the sentiment and semantic analysis for the in-Westlaw results.
- More white space. I think we’ll see a cleaner, leaner look with minimal visual interference. The focus will be on search results.
[Image (cc) by jovike]