Now that the dust is settling a bit on the new legal functionality at Google Scholar, a few things seem clear:
1. This is something Google has been working on for some time. Googler (and attorney) Rick Klau gives some of the background here. This wasn’t coded in a rush and released into the wild for comment. Google offerings typically improve consistently over time. “Iterate” is the mantra, I think.
2. Free doesn’t mean “lacks value.” As Ernie Svenson notes, Google Scholar is already quite good, and we have really already paid for the information; Google just presents it in a highly useful and usable format.
3. There will probably be integration with other Google offerings. It doesn’t take too much imagination to think about a mobile version of Google Scholar with an app on Android, Google’s nascent mobile phone OS. Here’s a link to a case on Google Scholar; I sent it to my BlackBerry, and it’s very readable on the small screen. Heck, the base version at scholar.google.com already works well on my smartphone.
(Update: Here’s a good review of Google Scholar, via Ernie.)
What will Google Scholar mean to the major incumbents, such as LexisNexis and Westlaw? Probably not much in the short run, in the sense that they have been moving upmarket for years (premium content for premium cost; see some of their reaction here). Smaller firms, solos, and thrifty law departments will undoubtedly give it a hard look and watch for updates.
As for other legal research companies? The jury’s out on that. This option, which hits my Gmail account far too often, might need to reconsider the subject line of yesterday’s message: