Web Critic - Missiontrek's Cartagio: The Next Generation

By Kathy Biehl, Published on September 2, 2002
Kathy Biehl is a member of the State Bar of Texas and co-author of the Lawyer's Guide to Internet Research. Formerly in private practice, she is an author, researcher and consultant in the New York City area.

Web Critic evaluates legal research Web sites in terms of the information they convey, how effectively they convey it and how well they take advantage of the possibilities of the Internet -- or don't.

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The basic structure of a browser has been with us long enough that it's become part of the metaphoric woodwork of the Internet. We're so used to it that we generally use it non-mindfully -- I was going to say mindlessly, but that carries connotations that might not always apply, except in the absence of rest, calm or coffee -- without paying much attention to how it works and how else it might. If you're like me, when you do think about its workings, it's probably to wish that it could perform a given task more simply or easily, but probably not to dream of its doing something that a browser has never done before.

Cartagio, which was launched in March by the software development company Missiontrek, might shake up your thinking. A "next generation browser," in Missiontrek's words, Cartagio augments the usual bag of browser tricks with a host of built-in search engines and search short cuts, time and usage tracking and analysis, e-mail and -- most importantly -- the ability to store, organize, retrieve, share, track, comment and collaborate on project-based research and allow an authorized user to tour designated resources or follow the project research step by step.

Cartagio fits so many functions into one window by changing the display in the area of the screen that contains the button bar in other Windows programs. What appears in that area depends on whether you are running searches or working in other areas. (The top grey menu bar, which is a constant, follows the familiar Windows design with a few changes in terminology -- Project instead of File -- and icons for searching the Web, accessing saved URLs, and setting up and managing e-mail and news.)

Describing Cartagio presents a bit of the chicken and the egg riddle; every potential starting place would benefit from some understanding of another piece of the puzzle. I'll begin with the fact that Cartagio is its own separate and intact browser, which operates independently from whichever program you may have installed on your system. (It will allow access to Internet Explorer favorites and Netscape bookmarks, if you import them.) After you open the program and enter your user name and password, a wizard prompts you to open existing work or create a new project.

Everything in Cartagio grows out of the creation of a project, which has the scope of your choice (one specific research question, perhaps, or an entire client matter). The project properties may include billing references (Cartagio has a built-in timer and the capability of generating research billing reports), as well as passwords and access rights for other users.

The properties also contain a library of keywords to be used in searches related to the project. The library is one of Cartagio's strengths. The keywords you enter into it appear automatically in the query box when you click the round button with a K, to the right of the box. The program will also use the keywords to assign relevance to search results. The keywords can be edited and expanded as your research progresses.

When you open a project, the first page that loads is the Project Document, which works as a virtual cover sheet. It may contain whatever introductory or explanatory material you like, including links to project content and e-mail addresses, instructions and your logo. Another communication center is the Project Organizer, which holds a logbook into which all authorized users may record notes. (The organizer also umbrellas the project's navigational history, usage statistics and content, as well as saved chat transcripts and categorized bookmarks and summaries of project resources.)

What about research? Pressing the WebSearch icon on the menu bar pulls up a query box and tabs for selecting from six categories of search engines. (This appears in the center of what would otherwise be the button bar and replaces graphs that measure current session and project-to-date statistics.) Within each category, you must choose a specific engine from a pull-down menu. Apart from the general metasearches Dogpile, Gimenei and Kartoo, Cartagio does not offer the ability to run a search through multiple sources simultaneously (a lack that is offset, in part, by the keyword library). Some of the choices are the expected (Google, Findlaw), some are pleasant surprises (the USPTO, Google newsgroups, Catalysts listservs, and the global weather source Wunderground), and some are head-scratchers (ancestry surnames and Biography InfoPlease, in the same category as FindLaw).

Cartagio offer multiple options for handling search results. One option has time-saving potential that borders on the awesome: When a document contains links to other pages, the LinkGopher feature searches all the linked pages for keywords. When a page contains metadata, a question mark icon appears and displays the data when you run the cursor over it. The Site Miner compiles a list of URLs visited and flashes when you open one. A Bookmark saves an open URL, while a Snippet captures text and/or graphics in their then current form. The camera icon makes screen captures of the currently open URLs; each project has the capacity for five. It's also possible to add comments and annotations to an excerpt from a resource (which could be an uploaded Word or PDF file) and to run a search through all of a project's bookmarks, resources (again, including uploaded files) and snippets.

All of these capabilities may also be applied to any URL you visit or document you view, whether you retrieved it from a search or not. (As with any browser, Cartagio will load a page when you type in the URL or file location.) There is no impediment, then, to coordinating Cartagio with use of a Web-based subscription service, such as Lexis or Westlaw. If you log in to and navigate through the service in the Cartagio browser, all of Cartagio's features are available for any page you reach. In other words, you could take a snippet of or comment on legislation or a case you pull up in a fee-based service and save your work in a Cartagio project.

Whether you save or excerpt a resource, Cartagio logs it in the project's navigational history. (One self-evident way to access this information is via an icon of footprints.) Anyone with project access may view either the entire navigational history or a specified user's trail. You may also organize your research into a tour, which presents your choice of pages, snippets and other resources in the order that you designate. The navigational history and tour features make it possible for someone to step into an existing project at any point and quickly get up to speed. This ability would come in handy in any number of scenarios. If you're out of the office or otherwise occupied, for example, another researcher could keep things moving without duplicating your work. The TrailTracker feature, too, could also be useful for proving the thoroughness of your research to your supervisor or, worst case scenario, malpractice insurance claims adjuster.

Sound complicated? It could be, but the program design suggests a deliberate, consistent effort to keep its features within the grasp of most computer users. Given the breadth of its capabilities, Cartagio is surprisingly logical, straightforward and, dare I say, easy to use. Its language choices are clear, colloquial and conversational, in both the terminology and tone of voice in Help files and the tutorials. The steps in each function make sense. Hints are embedded throughout the screen; run the cursor over any item in the top bars and an explanation and usage tip appear in the status bar at the bottom.

Assistance is also available at the Cartagio site. The FAQ addresses only installation and set-up issues, but the Tips section teems with helpful, concise pointers covering the spectrum of features, though in no discernible order. For other questions the site offers seven question-and-answer forums, which have had very little traffic to date. One touch that other vendors would do well to emulate is a problem report form, which may be submitted online.

Even with the user-friendly design and support system, the program does require some careful attention, especially at the outset. In recognition of this, when you first launch Cartagio it offers the option of opening a welcoming tour that operates as a sort of orientation. I encourage you to take the time to walk through it, and also to try out the tutorials. (They're short and target a low common denominator -- the sample research project involves instant messaging programs.) Even so, expect to refer back to them a time or two. This is not a program to dive in and try by the seat of your pants.

My quibbles with Cartagio are few, and minor at that. One could be solved by a quick editing job -- the welcoming tour page, called the QuickStart Tutorial, is missing almost all the possessive apostrophes. Also, the way Cartagio handles pop-up windows is startling, at first, and actually manages to make them more annoying than they otherwise are. After the target URL loads, the pop-up window will commandeer the viewer, rather than appearing over what you expect to be the active window. When this happens (which it will, if you try out Wunderground), close the tab for the pop-up window, which appears just above the bottom status bar, then press the tab for the window you want to view.

Cartagio comes in three versions. The full-scale version, Cartagio Enterprise, supports multi-user access, remote connection and administration, and real-time collaboration. The price depends on the number of users and whether the licensee uses its own server or Cartagio's. Cartagio Enterprise has an optional companion application, Cartagio Collaboration Centrale (CCC), which is a means of making Cartagio-authored documents available to non-Cartagio users. CCC publishes Cartagio-authored documents on a secured Web site, where any person with an authorization code may view them in any browser.

Cartagio Pro, at $175 per user, has no administrative features and requires installation of Cartagio Server software for time-keeping, remote access and remote access. The simplest version, Cartagio Home, at $55 per user, is geared to the solo practitioner. It supplies all the project-based research features but does not offer time-keeping, document editing, project statistics and the ability granting access rights to others. Free trial versions of all three may be downloaded from the Cartagio site.

Missiontrek has introduced another product that is outside the scope of this review but merits a brief mention. Research Agent tracks and audits browsing activity, to identify who is visiting what sites and how much time they're spending at each. If you're interested in recovering more of the cost of online research or obtaining usage data to evaluate whether to renew specific subscription services, the application is worth a look.

ã Kathy Biehl 2002.