[Published in the OSALL newsletter of March 2008]
Notes from Lighting the Way on the Information Highway: Sabinet Online Legal Bookmarks and Google Groups Archiving Workshop (Routledge Modise, 28 February 2008)
All of our 283 listserv members receive copies of requests by email almost as soon as the messages are posted. However, one of the advantages of having our system set up using Google Groups is that these messages are automatically archived and accessible to those who subscribe to the listserv.
In order to reduce the number of duplicate requests, it is suggested that members quickly preview and/or search the archives to see if a similar query and answer has already been recorded.
Like many Google applications, Google Groups requires the user to have a Google account. Mine has been set up using only an email address and password : no further details. The web-address above will bring you to a screen that looks like this:
It is worth spending a minute or two familiarising oneself with the various functions that are accessible from this page. Among the details that can be gleaned are a rather interesting set of statistics.
The screenshot below of the homepage shows these figures at a glance (recorded on 4 March) :
1 = 283 members
2 = 7 of 1475 messages
3 = 1 of 1 message (New since last time)
4 = access to other functions including Pages and Files which will be discussed further on
This area may be accessed by clicking either on the link in the righthand pane (4 above) or on “View all” (2).
This is the core of our listserv : a chronological list of all correspondence.
The last line of each post indicates the person who posted the message, the date and a blue hyperlink saying, for example “2 messages”. The latter indication is particularly significant and highlights the importance of retaining the subject line while corresponding on a particular matter. Doing so allows Google Groups to ‘pack’ the original request and related correspondence together. An example which the visually intense will read with ease in the screenshot above is Silistene’s request on 27 February with the subject “Zambia The Income Tax 8 (Amendment) Act 2007”, also marked on the left with a yellow star (I added the star and this functionality will also be explained further on). Click on “2 messages” ; you will be able to read both the query and the outcome.
Should you come across a query that is of particular interest to you, click on the outline of a star on the left. The icon will be filled with yellow and the subject tagged for your future reference.
The only information included by default when new subscribers join the listserv, is an email address. Optional extras are the name, business and photo fields. A few individuals have included these already and it makes for a more rounded community presence, particularly for those of us who live outside Gauteng and don’t often have the chance to meet other members personally. Many of us already have profiles on our company websites, so including this information on the OSALL listserv would not necessarily be adding any personal information that isn’t already on the Internet. However, privacy issues are a matter of personal choice.
This area allows the development of communally accessible html documents. The example used in the Workshop is called “Journals”. It currently lists only the SA Deeds Journal and De Rebus, with hyperlinks to the websites where these are respectively found. Please assist us with the development of this list.
Other possible uses for this feature are pages relating to specific pieces of legislation that could be updated by anyone having authoritative information to add, thus supplying current status details to anyone who visits the page.
Documents may be uploaded from one’s network to this area. The sample documents to be found there at present are the listserv’s Code of Conduct and Advertising Policy.
One of the suggested uses for this area is judgments or other material of immediate interest that may take longer to appear on their permanent websites.
The layout for both the Pages and Files areas is almost identical. “Pages” is used as the example below.
Anyone who is familiar with the search operators that apply in the Google search engine will immediately be comfortable with the mechanisms of searching in Google Groups.
There are two ways to search the contents of the OSALL listserv. Preliminary or simple searches are probably most easily run by using “Search this group” (see image Step two, number 5).
Should this method not return the results one requires, a possible second course of action could be to widen the targeted information by clicking on “Search Groups” (see image Step two, number 6). I wouldn’t recommend this for anything other than fairly specific search phrases but one could find results on another library group’s forum.
The example we used last Thursday to make a comparison between these two options was “law library”. Our listserv returned 125 results ; the Google Groups’ option returned 971 000.
The second way to interrogate the contents of the OSALL listserv is to move up a level, out of OSALL’s group to the Google Group’s homepage and run an advanced search.
Google Groups’ Homepage
Either click on the Google Group’s hyperlink in the top lefthand corner of the screen or go to www.groups.google.com. On the righthand of the search box is an “Advanced Search” hyperlink (Step six number 2 which will open the image Step seven). This is a search page most of us will be familiar with.
The one essential field to include when using this option is “Return only messages from the group at this location osall-list”.
One has the usual words and phrases options. You may wish to experiment with the phrase “Library of Congress”.
Messages can also be identified by the contents of the Subject lines. You may remember the discussion on the listserv in mid-2007 relating to the use of categories in () at the beginning of each subject line. (A list of these is available on the OSALL website www.osall.org.za and will also be loaded into the Pages section of the listserv). The reason for including a category, for example Legislation, is to ensure that the relevant material can be traced when running a search. Individual messages may or may not include the particular word, but using a set of uniform categories will make it easier to narrow searches. For example, different results will be returned for searches for (a) children ; (b) legislation children ; and (c) “case law” children. You may wish to experiment with a subject line search for Vacancy.
Restricting searches by the author can also be time-saving. For example, Lara posts a lot of information relating to tax law to the listserv. Lara’s email address could be used to return results from this source.
If one recalls seeing correspondence on a particular subject within, for example, the last three months, it is possible to define these parameters.
The results are returned according to Google’s current search algorithms at any given time. Anyone influenced by the demands of search engine optimization will likely be aware of the Google Dance phenomenon : the periodic adjustment of these algorithms to return more relevant results. This means that a site that may be returned at the top of a search one day, may disappear into the depths of the same search after the “Dance”. Should you find a set of returned results a bit disconcerting for any reason, you have the option to order them chronologically by clicking on the “Sort by date” instruction in the top right hand corner.
Do you recall, under the Discussions’ section, that particular discussions could be tagged by highlighting the adjacent star/s? This will come into its own when you click on the Favourites heading on the Google Homepage (Step six number 1). A list of tagged subjects will appear and any amendments or additions to your tagged messages will be visible.
Other information that can be seen at a glance on the Groups’ homepage is a list of the groups one belongs to. As an example, in the image below ‘my’ groups are identified as OSALL, SAOUG, Google Friends and Google Librarians’ Newsletter.
It is worth remembering that Google Applications are very much influenced by inhouse IT policies. Should you not see the screen in the way the images above have depicted the various facilities, please consult your technical team as the first resort. It may be necessary for them to tweak the permissions or firewalls that apply to your machine/s. As Listserv Administrator, there is not much, if anything, I can do to influence the access you have to the listserv once you have been added as a member.
Please contribute tips, suggestions and observations as these are sure to be of interest to all of us.
Opinions expressed in this column are my own and not necessarily those of my employer