Google offers health info in its Knowledge Graph: what about law?

The Official Google Blog has a post “A remedy for your health-related questions: health info in the Knowledge Graph”. It announces that Google is going to treat certain health-information searches differently from the average search.

If a user searches a query that likely relates to some common health conditions, Google will surface reliable knowledge — set apart from typical search results — to direct the user straight to trustworthy, straightforward answers. Google will tell you what health problem it might be — and what the symptoms and treatments are, and how critical & contagious the disease might be.

Google Health Info - Legal Info 1 - open law lab

This is exciting in itself — but it also could be a great model for legal knowledge searches. I wrote earlier about the potential for Google to be a more usable legal help portal. This model, with trustworthy & clear information surfaced in response to a common query, would work to help people with legal problems.

Here is more from Google on this new health info initiative:

Think of the last time you searched on Google for health information. Maybe you heard a news story about gluten-free diets and pulled up the Google app to ask, “What is celiac disease?” Maybe a co-worker shook your hand and later found out she had pink eye, so you looked up “pink eye” to see whether it’s contagious. Or maybe you were worried about a loved one—like I was, recently, when my infant son Veer fell off a bed in a hotel in rural Vermont, and I was concerned that he might have a concussion. I wasn’t able to search and quickly find the information I urgently needed (and I work at Google!).

Thankfully my son was OK, but the point is this stuff really matters: one in 20 Google searches are for health-related information. And you should find the health information you need more quickly and easily.

So starting in the next few days, when you ask Google about common health conditions, you’ll start getting relevant medical facts right up front from the Knowledge Graph. We’ll show you typical symptoms and treatments, as well as details on how common the condition is—whether it’s critical, if it’s contagious, what ages it affects, and more. For some conditions you’ll also see high-quality illustrations from licensed medical illustrators. Once you get this basic info from Google, you should find it easier to do more research on other sites around the web, or know what questions to ask your doctor.

We worked with a team of medical doctors (led by our own Dr. Kapil Parakh, M.D., MPH, Ph.D.) to carefully compile, curate, and review this information. All of the gathered facts represent real-life clinical knowledge from these doctors and high-quality medical sources across the web, and the information has been checked by medical doctors at Google and the Mayo Clinic for accuracy.

That doesn’t mean these search results are intended as medical advice. We know that cases can vary in severity from person to person, and that there are bound to be exceptions. What we present is intended for informational purposes only—and you should always consult a healthcare professional if you have a medical concern.

But we hope this can empower you in your health decisions by helping you learn more about common conditions. We’re rolling it out over the next few days, in the U.S. in English to start. In the long run, not only do we plan to cover many more medical conditions, but we also want to extend this to other parts of the world. So the next time you need info on frostbite symptoms, or treatments for tennis elbow, or the basics on measles, the Google app will be a better place to start.


Law’s PDF Problem (a short manifesto)

No Pdfs for legal information online - by Margaret Hagan - Open Law Lab-02
As I’ve ventured into the world of public legal education — helping lay people figure out and navigate their legal problems — I keep hitting my head against one thorny wall over & again.

Materials are buried in PDFs.

Excellent cartoon stories telling immigrants how to deal with the government are only available in PDFs. Know your rights explainers are presented in unsearchable PDFs. Walk-throughs of a legal process are presented in static, hundred-page long PDFs.

No Pdfs for legal information online - by Margaret Hagan - Open Law Lab-03

People do not like PDFs. They serve a very limited purpose — they keep the information frozen in the exact design that the author created, and let the author save some time up-front by merely having to upload the PDF to the web. But it puts the onus & the pain on the user.

The user has to make sure their browser can properly open & display the PDF. The user has to try to find their way through the PDF, hoping that the text is searchable, and then deal with the pain of searching through to find the information she is actually looking for. The user can’t easily clip out information to save for later, because the text will be wonky & full of bizarre characters if it’s copy-able at all.

And if the user is on mobile — which, users increasingly are — then PDFs are the worst. PDFs are not responsive, making them so difficult to look at on a mobile screen they are virtually useless.

PDFs are not user-friendly, and public-facing legal organizations should stop using them immediately. Sure, keep a PDF version up online for the *very* limited use case of a person wanting to print off a copy of the information and distribute it in its original author formatting.

But the vast majority of use cases for online legal information are people trying to get a specific clip of information that they can find easily, intake easily, and then save for future reference easily. PDFs don’t allow for any of this.

No Pdfs for legal information online - by Margaret Hagan - Open Law Lab-04

Please, legal authors & publishers of great content, unbury your content — let it free — make it usable for your target audiences. Take the text and images out of the pdf, and lay it out in a webpage with HTML.

It is not hard. It is worth the investment. It is a very quick & low-cost solution to the horrible PDF problem of public legal education. And you the legal organization will get higher Google search result placement if you liberate your text out of its frozen, buried PDF pile and onto lively, usable, searchable web pages.

To incentivize some change on this topic, I am thinking of naming names to shame groups that are serial PDF-buriers. Or giving some kind of reward badge to those organizations that actually present their information in easy-to-use formats — who take an Anti-PDF approach to sharing useful legal information. Something to get a movement away from this anti-user reliance on PDFs to communicate information.

No Pdfs for legal information online - by Margaret Hagan-01

Any thoughts on how to get change here — or other thoughts on how to better get legal information out of experts’ heads/computers/PDFs and out available to lay people?

Current Projects Triage and Diagnosis

Legal Health Checklist

Legal Health Checklist 1

I am writing a paper on ways to bring good design to create new models of access to justice.  I have been scouting out some such threads, to see what might be worth developing further.

In my browsing, I came across this pdf pamphlet from the State Bar of California.  It is an overarching list, meant to apply to all kinds of common situations that might arise in a person’s life.  It’s not about litigation as much as planning & abiding by regulations a person may not be aware of.

Legal Health Checklist 2

The list is a bit over-general — trying to cover everything from obligations on those turning 18, to those just having a baby, to those buying a home, to those stationed in California with the military.  It also would do well not to be buried in a .doc/.pdf file, but rather live on the web, and more easily searchable and reachable.

I can’t really imagine the use case of who the Bar expected to be using this, or how.  Perhaps they imagined that a person would print this out and just keep it around their home, and check back in periodically — o yes, I’m making plans to get married, and I know I should be doing something legal, but I don’t remember exactly what, let me go find that pamphlet!

I don’t envision myself or many others doing this — much more likely, they would type in a quick search “legal requirements getting married” and do their best to navigate the chaos that would result.

But regardless of the form of presentation and delivery, the checklist does have some interesting content.  It includes a general ‘stay healthy’ protocol for any person.

Legal Health Checklist - I want to stay legally healthy Legal Health Checklist - general to do

The pamphlet also outlines some basic alternatives to getting a lawyer, should such a problem arise. Again, I ask, why is this buried in a .doc and not prominently on the web? This is a good first step to legal self-management for consumers — letting them know their options and plan out for themselves.

This info could be made more helpful it was all linked out to richer explanations, examples, and how-tos.

I love the concept of the pamphlet, and would like to see it (or make it) brought to life in a more linked, lively, and findable instantiation.

Legal Health Checklist - I want to settle my problems without a lawyer




Does the Internet improve young people’s legal access?

A blog post from Richard Zorza’s rich blog on Access to Justice discusses an issue I am currently working on — whether the Internet is a usable and effective resource for non-lawyers to get legal information and support.

Some findings of particular interest:

  • Non-lawyers use search pages to find legal information to diagnose their situation.
  • They rely on the top search results as their primary resources, regardless of whether they are from the user’s jurisdiction, and without taking measures to check their quality.
  • The users sped through pages. Text and interfaces were scanned through quickly, and they flipped through sites quickly, back and forth. There was little slow, deliberate, consideration.
  • The users found some information to help address their legal issues, but they were not confident that their new knowledge was sufficient to truly help them.
  • After consulting Internet sources, the users were more likely to try non-legal processes to resolve their problems, and they did not register the urgency of taking legal means to protect themselves.

Catrina Denver - Legal Self-Help in the UK

Research on Young People’s Use of Internet to Get Legal Information

I am happy to report on, and post, a presentation by, Catina Denvir at the University of London, on preliminary results on research on young people’s use of the Internet in the UK.  I think these prelimnary results are important and helpful in our ongoing planning and design.

The researcher, after observing that there were high levels of access but low levels of use in this area, decided to conduct an experiment to test actual impact from this use of the Internet.  Users were given hypotheticals and then tracked and surveyed in employment and housing law.  These are some of the results.

Changes were Subject Specific (example housing):

   • Before  -­‐  Knowledge  poor  in  regards  to  eviction  without  a  court  order and whether  the  landlord’s  employees  can  remove  you  from  the  property  

• Uncertainty  as  to  what  constituted  a  breach  of  the  lease  

• After  -­‐  improvement  across  the  board,  but  uncertainty  about  who  can  evict  a  tenant” 

Lots of Searching and Churning Through Pages

Average time on a page less than a minute

Jurisdictional Errors

Did not limit searching to UK — It would be interesting to know about the extent to which people in the UK now assume US law rules (or dear, in some areas of poverty law.)  We obviously have the same problem in the US in terms of distinguishing between states.

Lots of back and forth between sites

Little discrimination as to which sites reliable

Order of Search Results was Very Important

Used top page and top result regardless of reliability. (So we need to do a better job of getting our stuff at the top, and educating public.)

After use of Internet, Greater Emphasis on Informal Mechanisms to Resolve Matter

Failure to understand legal processes

Failure to appreciate urgency

May Increase Knowledge, but not Confidence in Ability to Deal with Problem

This is consistent with other research in which I have been involved.

Obviously, this all opens up huge areas of additional inquiry.  Some of the most obvious:

  • How can we do better with search results (like expanding the LSC Google partnership so that it gets more broadly to trusted ATJ sites?
  • How can we use community eduction so people know to trust ATJ sites (how about a national certification system and courts and legal aid jointly promoting the reliability of those sites?
  • What would people need to have better confidence in their ability to navigate the system — would better descriptions do it, or does the system itself need to be easier?  Some of this could be tested.

Further information about the research is available from Catrina Denvir, catrina.denvir.10(at), at University College London.