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Lexis and Westlaw are locked in an accelerating race for the Holy Grail of old-line database vendors: a Web interface superior in design, usability, and performance to their legacy software. Unlike with many database vendors that have moved to the Web, market forces prevented Westlaw and Lexis from abandoning their software interfaces. In fact, in what must be a costly effort for both vendors, each has been forced by its user communities to maintain current software versions for each of the major PC platforms: Windows, Mac, and, to some extent, even DOS. A USER-VENDOR STAND-OFF Unable to force their users to migrate away from software, Lexis and Westlaw are struggling to entice their users with superior Web interfaces. After much trial and error with their first two generations, Westlaw and Lexis are in the process of releasing what will be, in essence, the third generation of their Web interfaces. In August, Westlaw released enhanced Westlaw.com ( http://web2.westlaw.com/signon) and announced plans to add many additional features and improvements in October and January. Lexis, starting in early summer, began adding new features to Lexis.com ( http://www.lexis.com/research). This incremental process culminated in a major new release of Lexis.com in October with additional features and improvements coming in January. Lexis and Westlaw have both made huge investments in Web technologies but have not yet convinced a significant number of their users to adopt their Web interfaces. Where have they gone wrong? GENERATIONS ONE AND TWO: FAILURE BY DESIGN In a strange paradox, Web efforts by Westlaw and Lexis have, up to now, been hobbled by the successes and failures of their software. This caused each company to follow very different design philosophies in constructing its Web interfaces. Lexis, in an attempt to distance itself from its failed software, adopted an almost purely Web-centered design approach, whereas the West Group approach, capitalizing on its software successes, is much more software-oriented. In many ways, it appears as if Lexis has looked to the Web to help rejuvenate its franchise, while Westlaw has merely sought to shift its market dominance in software to the Web. THE LEXIS APPROACH Lexis, reeling from criticism and market rejection of its Version 7 (Windows) software, looked to the Web for inspiration rather than to its own software when designing its initial Web interface, Lexis Xchange. Almost no design elements were carried over from Lexis software to its Web interface. In fact, the few elements that were included in Xchange, such as a command line, were soon dropped by Lexis with its second-generation Web interface, Lexis.com. Lexis incorporated standard Web elements and metaphors into its design in an attempt to create a new and purely Web experience for its users. For instance, Lexis relied much more heavily on browser commands than Westlaw. Also, Lexis, from the beginning of its design process, in a nod to basic principles of Web design, avoided high-end Web technologies, such as JAVA applets and plug-ins, in order to maintain as much platform and browser independence as possible. The first two generations of the Lexis Web interface succeeded in creating a clean and intuitive design but failed to incorporate the functionality required to move users away from software. BUILDING ON SUCCESS West Group, riding the wave of its highly successful and popular Westlaw Versions 6 and 7 Windows software, sought to recreate that experience on the Web for its users. Westlaw’s first-generation Web interface, the old Westlaw.com, mimicked its software as closely as possible. Many navigational elements and commands, such as the left sidebar menu and the buttons in the top toolbar, were recreated, using frames and pull-down menus. These were even located in similar places on the screen. Striving to maintain as much continuity as technology would allow between its Web and software interfaces, West Group pushed its software-centric design philosophy to the extreme with the release of its second-generation Web interface, New Westlaw.com. New Westlaw.com required a software-like installation of Java applets, ran only on Windows, and had high system and technical requirements. Although beautifully designed and bristling with cutting-edge Web technologies, it, too, was ultimately rejected by most users for being too slow and too complex, and for not offering many Web benefits. By so studiously imitating its software in its first two attempts at a Web interface, West Group failed to create a Web interface more compelling than its Westlaw software. THE NEW, THIRD-GENERATION ENHANCED WESTLAW.COM The new, third-generation Westlaw.com interface http://web2.westlaw.com/signon, released on August 2, is an attempt by West Group to salvage the best features of the first two generations of its Web interfaces. It is described as enhanced Westlaw.com and, as can be deduced from the URL, West Group stitched features from New Westlaw.com onto old Westlaw.com to form a sort of “Frankenweb” amalgamation of the two. It works but is not very pretty. West Group takes a phase-in approach to its new Web interface. The first phase, accomplished with the August release, involved retaining the new features and services introduced in New Westlaw.com but dispensing with its complexities and performance problems. Gone are almost all of the Java applets and the high system and technical requirements. West Group claims a 25�30 percent improvement in speed over New Westlaw.com. The next phase, rolled out in October, involved a flood of new features, enhancements, and improvements. Enhanced Westlaw.com looks very much like old Westlaw.com, with a similar blue and gray color scheme, a heavy reliance on frames, and commands and features in a seemingly familiar arrangement. Term and document browsing and other navigational elements are represented by easy-to-use buttons and pull-down menus. However, users without large, high-resolution monitors will find the screen, with its multiple frames, crowded and confusing. Also, the frames often require resizing and adjustment in order to be viewed properly. West Group released a full-screen view in October that allows users to expand the left informational frame (cite list, KeyCite results, etc.) or right document frame to fill the screen. Features retained from New Westlaw.com include the Trail search history service, an improved TOC (Table of Contents) Center, the gray information tabs in the left frame, and the link viewer. Trail allows users to track and manage research sessions for a minimum of 14 days. Trail Manager allows users to rename and delete trails and reset a trail’s expiration date. Trails can be downloaded and shared as HTML files with live links. The TOC Center (found by clicking on “more” on the upper left) allows users to browse a wide variety of materials by means of their tables of contents (See Figure 1). The materials are arranged under broad headings, such as: State Court Rules, Municipal Codes, and International Materials. Introduced with enhanced Westlaw.com is a new tab metaphor. Two tabs, Westlaw and Westnews, have already been released, with customizable tabs for jurisdiction and practice area materials. The Westnews tab introduces an entirely new way of using Westlaw.com for news and business information, with features such as news highlights normally found in a Web portal. Westnews defaults to a natural language search box with radio buttons for All News from Dow Jones Interactive (ALLNEWS), Major Newspapers Only (NPMJ), Newswires Only (WIRES), and All News and Newswires (ALLNEWS-PLUS). In addition, links to Company Profiles, Dun & Bradstreet, Investext, SEC Electronic Filings, Secretary of State Corporate Filings, and The Wall Street Journalare prominently displayed. New features under development and slated for release in the near future include: Locate for KeyCite results, KeyCite Most Cited that enables users to obtain a list of cases most cited for a point of law, linked WestClip cite list results, the ability to tag items from a cite list for printing, favorite and recent database lists, e-mailable research trails, and general performance and navigational enhancements. LEXIS.COM AND LEXIS.COM/RESEARCH With the simplicity of its design, an incremental approach to adding features and improvements, and careful avoidance of the Lexis software’s shortcomings, the new, third-generation Lexis.com interface has begun to gain a substantial following among Lexis users. Lexis has listened carefully to its users and learned from its initial mistakes. Although not yet complete, the third generation of Lexis.com can be thought of as one of functionality. Lexis is carefully adding features and functions requested by its users without disturbing or radically altering the look and feel of Lexis.com. Lexis, with a few setbacks, is also carefully maintaining its goal of platform and browser independence. This has been extremely well-received by the resurgent Mac population of Lexis users. Lexis introduced a new document navigation feature: a permanent toolbar, in its own frame, that appears at the bottom of a search result’s screen. The navigation bar allows users to browse backward or forward through their search results by document or by search terms. Users can move document by document or jump to any particular document by number. In addition, search terms are highlighted in yellow. The navigation bar is not yet available for Netscape but should be by the end of the year. Lexis also added new variable KWIC and Custom document viewing options. The new KWIC allows users to adjust (from 1 to 999) the number of words displayed around their search terms when viewing documents in KWIC format. Custom allows users to select the segments to display when viewing documents in full format. In addition, although not strictly interface features, new Lexis editorial enhancements (case summaries, core terms, and core concepts) have greatly enhanced the readability and functionality of Lexis.com. Case Summary includes the procedural posture, overview, and the outcome of the case, all highlighted in gray. Core Terms are system-generated key words derived from the text of the opinion. Core Concepts form a case digest based on the subject hierarchy developed for Search Advisor. Each core concept is linked to a legal topic in Search Advisor and includes a headnote-like entry taken directly from the opinion. All are searchable segments. Cite list view is vastly improved with the addition of case overviews and core terms. Another new feature, almost universally requested by users, is the appearance of law review footnotes at the end of articles with linked footnote numbers in the text. Several new features were released in October. The most widely anticipated by Lexis users is limited command stacking in a re-released command line. The dot commands available, at least initially, will be a subset of those available in the software. Also announced, and now in beta testing in the law school market, is live chat research assistance, which will allow one-on-one help with locating sources and constructing searches. Chat help will later be expanded to include browser and hardware-related assistance. Chat help will also eventually allow Lexis’ customer service to view a user’s screen in real-time. Due for a January release are a new, improved, and enhanced Shepard’s user interface and a new Table of Contents service. The Table of Contents service will be available for state codes, tax materials, selected treatises and texts, and some news sources. It will be linkable and expandable, allowing users to browse a source by drilling down through its content. CONCLUSION How successful will these new Web interfaces be in supplanting software? Lexis has come a long way in creating a “uniquely” Web experience for its users. Lexis.com is intuitive and fast, and is beginning to provide the functionality required by LEXIS software users. Westlaw is getting back on track by focusing on performance, usability, and content. Westlaw.com will soon offer a Web experience that rivals and may possibly surpass that of its software counterparts. Michael Jimenez is a reference librarian at the Harvard Law School Library. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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