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ResearchWire - A Review of Flyswat

By Diana Botluk, Published on December 1, 1999

Diana Botluk is a reference librarian at the Judge Kathryn J. DuFour Law Library at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and is the author of the The Legal List: Research on the Internet.  She teaches legal research at CAPCON, Catholic University Law School, and the University of Maryland.  Take a class with Diana!  Here's how...


When I teach my legal research students how to find relevant case law, I always impress upon them the concept of starting with one good case.  You know the process -- one case can lead to countless others through the use of key numbers, Shepardizing, internal cites, etc.
 
Flyswat, a new program for use with web browsing, has been created to accomplish the same sort of task when performing web based research.  It begins with the concept of having one good web page to start with.  It creates links from that page designed to arrive at relevant information about the concepts on that page.
 
When using Flyswat, inline links, called flycons, are created on any web page.  Basically, flycons are words from the text of the page that have been chosen to be highlighted by the Flyswat program.  These words are then underlined in green or yellow, and a list of links to other information resources is created from these words.
 
In order to use flycons, a researcher must have Flyswat installed on her computer.  It is used in conjunction with a web browser.  At present, Flyswat may only be used with Internet Explorer, but a notation on the web site indicates that a Netscape version is in the works.  To obtain the Flyswat program, go to the Flyswat home page (http://www.flyswat.com) and click download.  The program is free, and takes very little time and effort to download and set up.
 
Once Flyswat is installed, a new browser window opens, enhanced with the Flyswat menu.  The Flyswat buzz bar appears across the bottom of the screen, giving the user options for what to do next.  The Show List Links option creates a separate frame containing a vertical list of links which are relevant to the text on any web page in the browser.  The flycons, or underlined words, will be present directly on the web page in the browser.  Either of these options, link lists or flycons, can be turned on or off at the user's discretion.
 
In order to take Flyswat for a test drive and get into the holiday spirit at the same time, I installed the software, then pulled up the text of the first page of Dickens' A Christmas Carol (http://www.literature.org/authors/dickens-charles/christmas-carol).  Flyswat highlighted some text on my screen, opened a second frame and created a list of links in four categories: Books, Movies, Events, and People.  While my actual browser page didn't seem to slow down in comparison to a browser without Flyswat, creating the links and flycons was tediously slow, to the point where I questioned if the software was even working.
 
When I clicked on one of the movie links to retrieve more information about the 1995 movie, I was linked directly to the specific movie page from the Internet Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com).  I also had the option of directly buying the video or dvd, or doing some comparison shopping for the video.
 
The same sort of shopping options appeared for the other movie versions, as well as the books listed in the Books category.  When I looked in the Events category I was taken to Ticketmaster! (http://events.ticketmaster.com)
 
The People category brought me to a biography of Charles Dickens at the Biography.com web site (http://www.biography.com).  I also noticed, to my surprise, that there were no links that led to more information about the holiday of Christmas!
 
The information Flyswat provided me, while valuable, also seemed to be retail-weighted.  Thus, I went looking for an explanation of how the flycon words and links were chosen.  For example, is there a big Flyswat database somewhere, or a master list of controlled vocabulary terms for Flyswat links?  And, if so, why doesn't this list include the word "Christmas"?
 
The help screens and online tours and FAQ's at Flyswat's web site didn't really address my question.  They did mention that a "customize" feature will be available soon where Flyswat users can change destinations for a certain type of link, and display all available categories.  Perhaps when this feature becomes active more light will be shed on the issue of how Flyswat creates its links.
 
As far as I could tell, Flyswat is brand new and shows promise.  I think the basis is there to turn this into a very useful research tool, if we gain a better understanding of how the links are created, and perhaps gain a little control over them.  As it stands, it seems this aspect needs to be expanded from its current emphasis on shopping.  Unless, of course, you still have your holiday shopping to do!
The information Flyswat provided me, while valuable, also seemed to be retail-weighted.  Thus, I went looking for an explanation of how the flycon words and links were chosen.  For example, is there a big Flyswat database somewhere, or a master list of controlled vocabulary terms for Flyswat links?  And, if so, why doesn't this list include the word "Christmas"?

The help screens and online tours and FAQ's at Flyswat's web site didn't really address my question.  They did mention that a "customize" feature will be available soon where Flyswat users can change destinations for a certain type of link, and display all available categories.  Perhaps when this feature becomes active more light will be shed on the issue of how Flyswat creates its links.

 
As far as I could tell, Flyswat is brand new and shows promise.  I think the basis is there to turn this into a very useful research tool, if we gain a better understanding of how the links are created, and perhaps gain a little control over them.  As it stands, it seems this aspect needs to be expanded from its current emphasis on shopping.  Unless, of course, you still have your holiday shopping to do!