Desktop search remains an underutilized and underappreciated productivity tool for lawyers. Windows 7 has finally delivered a powerful search feature that will uncover content quickly. In what seems typical, the default settings are not the most powerful. Check out these tips to make sure that you’ve tweaked your search to be as useful as possible. In particular, make sure the search is actually looking at the contents of the files you use, not just their names. You can also create your own search shortcuts, so that when you hit the Windows button, there are other search choices.
Cloud search is always an option but if you use cloud as a synchronized storage medium, then it means those files also exist on your local machine. If you can improve and use your desktop search, you will be searching the same content and may use it more than a cloud service.
MakeUseOf had a nice roundup of some lesser known search tools that you can use if you still don’t find Windows built-in search to be powerful enough. These are not the typical ones you may have heard of, like Copernic or X1. If you are finding yourself hunting around your hard drive for that file that you know you kept, improving your desktop search may be the best way to do it.
Greplin changed its name to Cue and temporarily disabled its Web search, preferring instead to focus on its iPhone app. It has now resuscitated its Web search as promised. If you had a Greplin account before, it’s still there as are your earlier indexes. They will be out of date and you need to relink your apps (Google Mail, Google Mail for Apps, Dropbox, etc.) to Greplin so that the indexing can recommence.
The interface looks more mobile-oriented, which is not surprising. The search box and results are constrained in a very narrow column. If you do a search across all of your cloud content and only want to look at one type of information – e-mail, or files, or contacts – the filter button is now within that same column rather than a separate set of tabs.
I miss the Google Chrome extension that enabled search from within the browser but it’s still a fast way to find information in my personal cloud.
Cue search results page, showing a filter list of results for files found on Dropbox but excluding e-mails and contacts with the search term. In this case, I’m using IFTTT.com to copy Twitter messages to Dropbox that contain useful links in them. This search retrieves them all.
I was disappointed to find that Greplin was now offline and reshaping itself as an iPhone app called Cue. They are promising to get the Web version back soon so hopefully we’ll see the same useful search across multiple cloud tools. I posted about it here and here. Cloudmagic is still out there if you’re primarily a Google Apps user.
One of the powerful components of the cloud-based services lawyers are using is the API. This enables services to talk to each other and for developers to create new tools to use those services. I am seeing more file management tools appearing that sit between you and your Dropbox files and whose goal is to improve your ability to manage those files.
One is called DropDav, which was originally created to support iPad users but is open to anyone. As they say on their Web site, they do not replace Dropbox; they are resting on top of that service and you can still access your Dropbox account in the same way you could before. It allow you to drag and drop files from popular iOS applications into your Dropbox account.
Another one for the heavy file storage user is Otixo. It also uses Webdav but it provides integrated access to a variety of cloud services so that you can drag a file from a Dropbox account, for example, over to your Google Drive or to a Sugarsync account. You can do this if you are sitting at a computer and have synchronized all of your accounts down to your local machine but Otixo moves this ability up into the cloud so that you can manage files this way from anywhere with Internet access and a Web browser.
You may ask yourself why you would need this sort of tool. I use Dropbox for personal file synchronization and storage and Sugarsync for professional files. Since I use the free versions, this arrangement worked out because I have fewer personal files so they fit into the 2 GB Dropbox free account, while Sugarsync has a 5 GB free account. At one point I had devised a way to store my Dropbox files amongst my Sugarsync ones, so that I could easily drag and drop files from one to the other. But a tool like Otixo means that I do not have to keep any personal data in my professional account, just shifting files as I need to get access to one or the other. Of course, if it’s just a file or two, I suppose it would be a lot simpler to just upload them to the appropriate location!
Webdav is not a new technology. You may already be using it to display a Google calendar within your desktop e-mail program. Your calendar isn’t downloaded, but the Webdav connection allows you to make changes to it so that you only make the change once, not in two places. It is interesting to see how it is becoming powerful as a front end to popular cloud services.
While these Webdav file managers can improve your document and file management, they come with a price. Otixo is free for only 250 MB of file transfers a month. DropDav does not have a free level, although there is a 14 day free trial. If you want to do more with your cloud-based file storage, you will need to pay an additional fee. But if you are a heavy user or want the iPad access to your Dropbox account outside of the default utility, these services may be worth it.
Someone sent me a PDF the other day, needing it quickly turned into an editable file (Microsoft Word or some similar format). Our organization long ago dropped a PDF editor from the standard software installed on our PCs so I had to hunt for an alternative. It was too big for one of the sites I’ve mentioned here before, but I was able to use NewOCR.com to convert it.
Another question that comes up is how to merge multiple documents – Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, etc. – into a single PDF. This is another simple online task with free PDF tools on a site run by Eged Software. You can upload the files you want to merge and save them as a PDF. The Eged tools will also convert from PDF to text, allow you to rotate, and convert photos to PDF. If you are on the go and have access to the Internet but not your PDF editor (Adobe, of course, but also Nitro or PDF995), this can be an efficient way to perform some basic PDF manipulation.
If you use Google Docs or Mail or store your files in Dropbox, you should be aware of Greplin. It enables you to search your mail and documents stored in the cloud (here’s my previous post about it). Greplin recently announced that it was now indexing full content stored in Dropbox. Before this, a search in Greplin would return just documents whose titles matched your search query. Now the results will be based on an index of the full text of your documents.
As before, Greplin is a personal tool. Although you can access it from anywhere you have an Internet connection, you log in to your account to search across your other cloud services. No-one else can search Greplin and see your information.
Users of Mendeley or Zotero are probably already managing articles or case law or other documents downloaded in PDF format. An interesting newcomer to this area is Qiqqa. Unlike academic researchers, for which all of these tools appear to be primarily designed, I’m always curious to see how they do with law-related PDFs. While they will handle a law journal nicely, I test them against case law. Zotero, for example, has the ability to capture an item as a case, with special feeds to store date decided, and reporter volume.
Qiqqa does not have a specific case law attribute but offers a lot of other ways to get into the documents you have. I downloaded an opinion of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in PDF. It was easy to add to my local library – there is also an online sync function available, so you can have your library stored online – and Qiqqa automatically will perform optical character recognition (OCR) on the document.
It displays this information in interesting ways. First, it shows a tag cloud of terms that occur frequently in the document. For example, the case I used – Johnson v. City of Detroit – dealt with housing discrimination and was a Section §1983 case. The tag cloud displays a large 1983 among the other keywords it highlighted in the case. You can click on any term in the tag cloud and Qiqqa will highlight that keyword wherever it exists in your document. You can also search across your library for a keyword to quickly bring documents together.
Qiqqa’s metadata sniffer didn’t extract any useful metadata but, with the PDF of the case downloaded from the Sixth Circuit’s site, when I clicked on Google Scholar, it ran a search and retrieved the same case. That can help you quickly get into other citations, using Google Scholar’s How Cited feature.
Like Zotero, Qiqqa isn’t ideal for legal research management unless you are primarily dealing with traditional journals and articles. However, the features it has for handling PDFs are quite useful and I could see this being a great tool for managing a case with a lot of downloaded PDFs or for internal functions, like managing articles or knowhow that you have found that relate to your practice.