Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Question about searching online court records

I'm in the process of doing some research for a client of mine regarding software tools that enable searching of (public) online court records.  There are various options here:

1. Go directly to the court house web site (if it exists).  This would of course take forever.

2. Purchase (cheap) a canned software package such as NetDetective, SafeSpy, etc.

3. Use an (expensive) service such as Lexis-Nexis, ChoicePoint, etc., apparently favorites among attorneys

I became intrigued by option 2. after downloading and evaluating the various packages.  They're cheap - less than $50.  And they're fast, often returning results in seconds.

Does anyone know how these packages do what they do?  They seem to be too fast to be actually hitting all the courthouse databases across the country, but at the same time, for $50, how can the companies that make these packages afford to collect the information and build their own databases?

Anon123
Thursday, June 24, 2004

There must be a *huge* qualitative difference between Lexis-Nexis and the inexpensive desktop info gatherer applications. Otherwise, the market would not support the fees that Lexis-Nexis charges. And bear in mind that what Lexis-Nexis does is "replicated" in a sense by the free public internet and by free news and search sites, thereby undermining their pricing structure - but not really.

So, Lexis-Nexis' database is basically golden. BTW: I am in the immediate area of Lexis and I've known people/victims who worked there. They could have *owned* the public internet with their information assets but did nothing about it until very, very late, and the Yahoo "kids" with HTML web search pages passed them by.  "Stodgy" is an understatement...

Bored Bystander
Thursday, June 24, 2004

Bored Bystander,

Thanks for the info, and the very interesting comment about Lexis.

Anon123
Thursday, June 24, 2004

"at the same time, for $50, how can the companies that make these packages afford to collect the information and build their own databases?"

I'm confused.  You’re just taking about a search engine.  Google works pretty fast and they don't store the whole internet...  If I where to write on of these packages, it would be kind of a specialized Google.  Periodically crawl the courthouse databases and store the indexes.  Then my client app only searches my own database and gets all the relevant hits in every courthouse, but I don't need to store much data.  Doesn't this make sense or am I missing something?

Steamrolla
Thursday, June 24, 2004

>> Doesn't this make sense or am I missing something?

Thanks for replying Steamrolla.

Unless *I'm* missing something, I think *you're* missing someting.  Google doesn't go into the databases that are *behind* the web sites.  How could it?  Case in point: From the research I've done, the court databases are only accessible via a query screen on their web site, typically allowing searches only by a person's name.  There's no way to display all gazillion records in the database on one HTML page.

This entire topic involves the issue of the Deep Web - the terrabytes of data sitting in databases behind the web sites, which are inaccessible to search engines, spiders, bots, etc.

Anon123
Friday, June 25, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home