Crowdsourcing analytical content.

by Jason Wilson on July 15, 2010

By Jason Wilson

At AALL 2010 in Denver this week here is the gist of a conversation I witnessed (okay, maybe participated in as well):

Person 1: Do you really think we’ll be able to crowd source analytical content?

Person 2: Yes. I mean, not right now, obviously, but I do see it in the future.

Person 1: Really?

Person 2: Absolutely.

I’m here to tell you folks, these individuals are a mile high, if you catch my drift. I say this because I have spent nearly two decades of (1) writing analytical content and (2) trying to get experienced practitioners to do the same. Guess what? Lawyers (and judges) aren’t so good at dedicating themselves to writing content, and unless there is some cataclysmic shift in mindset, it will never happen, especially if you are talking about writing for FREE.

I have given considerable thought to this problem (and I have a greater interest in solving it than most), and I just don’t see how a Demand Media or similar model could ever produce good or reliable analytical material. If you disagree, please say so.

{ 9 comments }

legalinformatics July 16, 2010 at 1:21 am

Jason: Thanks for raising this important issue. Cornell's Legal Information Institute has been crowdsourcing its Wex legal encyclopedia, http://topics.law.cornell.edu/wex . Staffan Malmgren of lagen.nu has an interesting post about his experience implementing crowdsourced commentary on statutes, at Cornell's VoxPopuLII blog: Crowdsourcing Legal Commentary, http://j.mp/9zECLi ; and Olivier Charbonneau has developed a blog-based model for crowdsourcing legal commentary: Collaboration and Open Access to Law, also on VoxPopuLII, http://j.mp/cUgGmN . Disclosure: I edited both of the VoxPopuLII posts.

legalinformatics July 16, 2010 at 1:24 am

I'd also be interested in your views on Spindle Law, http://spindlelaw.com/start , David Gold's new crowdsourced legal research and writing system.

jasnwilsn July 17, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Robert,

Sometime last year I had the opportunity to review the Spindle Law offering. I spoke with Nick Diamand at length about the project and what they were hoping to achieve. Their efforts resulted in a post I wrote about legal blogs as learning modules. What is important about their system is the recognition that you need an editor to organize and manage the flow of data. In the end, though, unless you have content, it's virtually impossible to get people to v isit your site, even if Bob Ambrogi writes a review about it. Lawyers are good at consuming information. They are even pretty good at giving you some feedback, or opinions. But they aren't going to give you content, and they definitely aren't going to give it to you for free. That's why I believe the experiment will ultimately fail. I am interested to see whether the eLangdell casebook experiment will bear fruit, but I have my doubts about that as well.

Joe Hodnicki July 17, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Staffan Malmgren, the creator of the Swedish free access to law service lagen.nu and a project manager at the Swedish Courts administration reports on a project to produce free legal commentary of Swedish statutes on VoxPopuLII at http://blog.law.cornell.edu/voxpop/2010/03/31/cro

jasnwilsn July 17, 2010 at 8:35 pm

And while we're on this point, I should add that even if you were able to get enough of the "crowd" involved, ultimately you have to be concerned about who is in that crowd and the quality of the product being generated. In the end, the publisher is going to have to spend some time vetting, rewriting, and verifying (citation analysis, Shepardizing, etc.) the content. Accuracy will be a big deal for any crowd sourced content, and having a rating system simply won't be sufficient to guarantee it.

I have an upcoming post on Slaw.ca that suggests that we might approach this problem from the other direction: take what is currently available on the web and organize it.

David Gold July 18, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I just posted something about this on our blog. http://bit.ly/cnAsw6

David Gold July 18, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Of course, we agree about the need for editors.

Jason Wilson July 18, 2010 at 8:18 pm

David,

Good post, and despite my opinions, I do promote your site and mission because it is better for all of us if you succeed. I’m just a bit more of a pessimist when it comes to these matters.

David Gold July 19, 2010 at 6:25 am

Thanks.

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