October 19, 2005
Scholarship's Social Layer
Posted by Joe Miller

The Yale Law Journal's launch of a bloglike "online companion" for the Journal, called The Pocket Part, has generated a well-deserved bit of blogobuzz.  It quickly generated reportage posts by Stephen Bainbridge, Ben Barros, Heidi Bond, Orin Kerr, Dan Markel, and Larry Solum.  Like others, I'm delighted to see this development.  And, just at it did for Paul Horwitz, Pocket Part prompts me to think about how internet-based technologies that lower the costs of collaboration could spark new socially-produced scholarship or scholarship tools ... in short, how the scholarship's social layer may grow.  Paul muses on the Wiki-Treatise.  Matthew Bodie has a paper at SSRN about an open-source approach to the casebook.  My own hope?  Social tagging for scholarly papers.  More below the fold ...

Existing social tagging technology and practice, on sites such as Flickr (for photos) and del.icio.us (for web bookmarks), show the power of letting users grow a social layer to comment on the content layer in a way that organizes the content.

Now that others (besides Westlaw and Lexis) present electronic versions of scholarly articles, I start to wonder:  Can we bring social tagging to legal scholarship?  I've been looking around for this phenomenon in other scholarly fields and have not yet seen it.  But I'm going to keep searching.

Why?  What's the point?  Well, my own motivation is that I think keyword searching within the text of an article is far too crude a search tool, but it is all that Westlaw and Lexis offer.  Social tagging strikes me as a much more nuanced and powerful search tool.  And I know that I would add tags, sharing with my colleagues in the hope they would share with me, to make my research time far more productive as the social layer grows.

Perhaps Westlaw or Lexis will roll out a user-based social tagging system at some point.  Perhaps repositories like SSRN and Berkeley Electronic Press will beat them to it.  In the interim, I hope that individual law reviews themselves will think about doing so.  Many of them already host electronic copies of the articles they publish.  Wouldn't it be simple to, e.g., generate a tag cloud from the text of each article for a baseline tag set, then use social tagging tech to let users generate a second tag set thereafter?  The law reviews that make their articles more usable with a rich social tag set will doubtless attract more readers, which may boost citations to those articles in other articles.

Blogs and Blawgs, Internet, Junior Scholars, Law Student Blogs, Legal Scholarship, SSRN, Technology | Bookmark

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