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Legal intranets are coming of age. As increasing numbers of attorneys use them and view them as key information portals, librarians must stay on the cutting edge of content delivery in order to meet their heightened expectations. One way to do this is by providing as much current, relevant news as possible. Of course, most intranets include links to local and national newspapers and perhaps to CNN and MSNBC, but today Web designers can go an extra step by including “news feeds” and other types of targeted news content. A news feed, as I define it here, is HTML or other coding that Web designers insert into a page to make news headlines appear from a particular source. Generally, the originator of the feed allows the designer to select the type, style, and number of headlines so that the resulting feeds look like they belong on the designer’s own page. The originator is also an aggregator, collecting headlines from hundreds or thousands of sources, categorizing them by topic, and “streaming” them daily via the coding. At the moment, the three largest of these vendors are Moreover.com ( http://www.moreover.com/), iSyndicate ( http://www.isyndicate.com/), and ScreamingMedia ( http://www.screamingmedia.com/). We will look at what each of them offers. First, however, why would an intranet designer include new feeds? Although there are some pitfalls that I will examine shortly, news feeds are powerful intranet tools because they force intranet users to look at information. How many times have we librarians coordinated e-mail newsletters that attorneys repeatedly ignore — or worse, delete without opening? How many times have we brought a user a particular book, only to find the identical book sitting on the user’s own bookshelf? The great thing about a news feed is that the only way a user can ignore it is to stop using the intranet entirely (which is, hopefully, an unlikely scenario). The potential problem with a news feed, however, is the intranet designer’s relative inability to control feed content. After all, content is wholly determined by the feed’s originator. This obviously can be a stumbling block for many librarians. Librarians over the years have gone to great lengths to make sure that they — and they alone — know the content of their collections. Now, if you use news feeds, this principle is turned on its head by making intranet designers include unknown content. One “real life” example of this dilemma comes from the news feed I placed on the entry page of our intranet. It happens to be the “Law News” feed from Moreover.com, which collects headlines from national newspapers, as well as smaller legal newsletter publications, including client publications from the large law firm of Brobeck Phleger & Harrison. Imagine my chagrin when our marketing director phoned me shortly after I created the feed asking me why “Brobeck” was on our intranet. The catch, however, is that these streaming feeds often do contain high-quality and relevant information. It is not really worth dismissing the whole concept when so much may be potentially gained by using news feeds. Let’s look at the “Brobeck” example again. Although it was somewhat problematic having a competitor’s article linked from the entry page of our intranet, we gained some things by having it there in plain view. Not only were we able to retrieve legal information from a reputable source, but we were also able to see how one of our competitors was positioning itself in the marketplace when confronted with a new, important legal issue. Now, let’s examine the news feed vendors. MOREOVER.COM Moreover.com is the aggregator that provides the most free material — in 327 news categories at last count — at http://www.moreover.com/categories/ category_list.html. Intranet designers can view the current feed from the master category list to examine sample sources (a master list of all sources, however, does not seem to exist — one chooses by category, rather than source). From here there are only a few steps left before the content can appear on your intranet: registration, choosing headline font style and color, and “copying and pasting” the script itself. (As an aside, one technique I found useful is placing the feed in a table column on the side of the page so that it is easy to see, but not distracting.) One of Moreover.com’s strengths is its dynamic list of categories that are highly specialized (e.g., “Aerospace and Defense Industry News”), but with sufficiently broad coverage (e.g., “New Zealand News”). If a law librarian chooses not to use any of the several legal and business feeds, there are dozens of industry and general news categories that might be helpful. In addition, Moreover.com has free feeds specifically designed for news of 30 large corporations — from Coca-Cola to Disney. Moreover.com is also positioning itself to be a fully searchable news portal, complete with e-mail alerts, so librarians should probably keep their eyes on this company even if they do not use its news feeds. Lastly, Moreover.com also offers a fee-based service “Dynamic Content Solutions” that includes highly specialized content feeds. ISYNDICATE.COM iSyndicate was the first news feed to attract my attention as an intranet designer because it offered what is now called iSyndicate Express. This is an entirely free service that provides headlines from a variety of news sources, including Fox News and The New York Times. Its “Headline Manager” is remarkably easy to use and provides intranet designers with several different type and style options. Unfortunately, iSyndicate has not added much legal content since its inception; the “Business Law” category feeds law-related articles from only three sources: Business Wire, Office.com, and the Industry Standard. On the other hand, iSyndicate is keeping on top of free sources for general news. You can choose either one or several headline sources in a feed and preview a sample selection before completing your design. Those who don’t wish to be stifled by the short list of sources available from iSyndicate’s Express service can choose to use its fee-based Network Service or Wireless Network Service. With these, an intranet designer can choose from a much longer list of sources and have the feed specially customized. The Network Service starts at $1,000 per month. SCREAMINGMEDIA.COM Unlike Moreover.com and iSyndicate, ScreamingMedia’s feeds are not free. The company offers several products: News!Stand (topical news from a variety of sources), Content!Direct (includes feeds from “premium” content sources, such as national magazines), and Custom!Edition (specialized, targeted news from many sources). ScreamingMedia has several advantages over the others. Its content is possibly of a higher caliber. With Content!Direct and Custom!Edition the articles appear on the designer’s own web site and users are never “linked out.” Finally, with Custom!Edition, the feed is professionally controlled. However, users pay dearly to subscribe: News!Stand at $800 per month is ScreamingMedia’s lowest-cost subscription. There’s also not a great deal of content here to attract the legal crowd (see ScreamingMedia’s “Law & Policy” list of sources at their Web site, http://www.screamingmedia.com/). WHAT’S NEXT? In which direction are news feeds headed? I think the “Brobeck” example is again illustrative. Moreover.com and iSyndicate are actively seeking “nontraditional” news sources so that content will continue to be fresh and innovative. With more content, categories will be more precisely honed, thereby making news feeds all the more necessary. There is also an added bonus — they provide a vehicle for any of us to become self-publishers — this time with a worldwide audience. Admittedly, this is all theory for now, but in the meantime, it sure is great to see news about high-profile cases streamed to the entry page of your own intranet. Steven P. Anderson is librarian at Gordon Feinblatt Rothman Hoffberger and Hollander in Baltimore. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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