[This article originally appeared at Law Technology News, January 3, 2013. I've tweaked the title from the original because I wished I'd done it before it went live!]
Open source tools can help law firm marketing, intelligence teams monitor topics and clients
The cloud has been a boon for law firm staff focused on intelligence gathering. This is most often marketing, but it may be the librarians helping out the chief marketing officer, or a dedicated competitive intelligence group. Cloud services providing tools for keyword monitoring and tripwires make it easier for these teams to try out a new service and get up and running. Social media can be monitored, whether by the creators in marketing or the watchers in any part of the firm, and used without a great deal of technology involvement.
Some of the tools your law firm is using in the cloud may be the type you would rather host yourself. Open source variants can provide you a free-to-acquire tool that insures against changes in commercial offerings in a still developing area. The increasing collaboration, sometimes even direct reporting, between the CIO and the CMO can enable agile alternatives to just subscribing to a cloud instance of an interesting tool. (For more on CIOS and CMOS, Accenture’s 2013 survey report is an interesting read of the challenges)
Tiny Tiny RSS is an open source RSS server that is easy to implement. It can be used to help you follow a mixture of alerts, publisher feeds, and other information you are turning into RSS. Because RSS is essentially a point-and-click way of following information, it’s perhaps the foundation to build. Your lawyers and staff can have their own accounts and follow their own RSS feeds. Or you can have your marketing and intel staff show their added value. After culling items from the incoming RSS, staff can share the highlights with others in the firm, like your own internal Meltwater or Brandwatch.
What Quoth the Raven?
RSS is small potatoes. Huginn is a trigger-based tool named after Odin’s raven, and created by Andrew Cantino. If you are familiar with If-This-Then-That (IFTTT) or Zapier, you understand what Huginn does. When one thing happens, Huginn is notified and triggers a second thing to happen.
This is your typical open source project: highly customizable, and so requiring more technological chops to install and use. Unlike Tiny Tiny, which relies on the typical LAMP software environment, Huginn uses Ruby.
But imagine if you could create triggers that emulated email rules: an item pops up on an RSS feed and immediately emails people who need to know. Or a social media message is posted and triggers an archived copy to be created. The trigger need not occur at the source. After your teams have received the raw data, the triggers can occur based on what they do with the information.
Your Mining Kit
O’Reilly publishes a book on Mining the Social Web by Matthew Russell. The author has open sourced the tools that he discusses in the book, and describes how you can use them to dig into a variety of online sites. He also gives you a taste with a free first chapter.
Chapters 1, 2, and 3 lead you through accessing the Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn APIs to access the type of information you’re seeking. APIs can produce powerful results, as Snapchat users are currently finding out to their detriment. Chapter 6 discusses mining e-mail accounts for key terms. In this case, the exercise gets you to download a copy of the Enron e-mail data to work against. This is verging more into an e-discovery tool but is an example of how the tools reach beyond just the social Web.
Using the mining tools can seem a daunting process. But Russell has made it as easy to get up and running as possible. The mining tools are available as a virtual machine, which means you can run it as a virtual computer without going through an installation of each of the components. Your IT department will still need to install Virtualbox on your PC or on a location on your network but Virtualbox is another free, open source project.
When you are gathering information, you just want to get what you need. Open source can give you tools that you have greater control over and that may be more stable in the long run than mostly-social oriented tools that are still shaking out in the market place. Strong collaboration between the marketing and IT teams may mean you can make these tools get exactly what you need out of them, as opposed to subscribing to someone else’s.