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Monday, August 04, 2014

Ind. Law - Trying to use the "updated" online Indiana Code is incredibly frustrating; July 1 change-over exposes system's flaws


I began reporting about the state of the online Indiana Code in 2006, in a Res Gestae article that pointed out (starting on p. 4) that:

  1. Unlike printed versions of the Indiana Code, the current online Indiana Code is accompanied by no explanatory materials, such as the significance of headnotes and history lines, how current the online document is, that it is not official, etc.
  2. The online [2006] Indiana Code is error-ridden. "Little care goes into the public online version of the Code. The LSA staff has its own online system for bill drafting and research. On the public system, items appear and disappear, links are broken, links lead to nothing."
  3. Retention issues - "Where do you go to look for the old version? And where will you go in six months or 50 years?"
In 2007 I published a second Res Gestae article, looking at the trustworthiness of the online Indiana Code, using national standards:
  1. Is it official?
  2. Has it been authenticated?
  3. Is it permanently accessible?
  4. Is it secure?
What happened on July 1st of this year?

Although significant problems remained, gradually over the years the General Assembly and its staff addressed a number of these concerns. But as of July 1st of this year, 2014, the program has taken a giant step backward. That was the date when:
  1. The online 2013 Indiana Code was updated to reflect the legislative changes made by the 2014 General Assembly;
  2. Its predecessor, the 2013 Indiana Code, was retained, but its familiar easy, speedy access and availability via both html and pdf versions, has been scrapped.
The replacement: a s-l-o-w, complex, non-intuitive, multi-step system requiring much effort by the user to find the even most basic information. And this new system does not become any easier the more you use it.

What is this so important?

Because for the majority of Indiana's citizens, including many lawyers and judges, the online Indiana Code, maintained by the General Assembly, is the main (or only) way to access Indiana's statute law.

Reactions from ILB readers

Since July 1st I've heard comments from a number of attorneys, including these three:

My initial reaction

My initial ILB review of the updated Indiana Code, on July 2nd, was not too bad. I did note the "2015 problem" and was later told by LSA that the problem was being corrected.

It is only when I tried to actually use the online Code that the real issues revealed themselves. I soon made a note to myself:

Seems to be designed for occasional use, but not for the occasional user (too high a learning curve), and not by the heavy user (too slow, too time-consuming, too frustrating).
My research

I've spend much of the weekend looking at the "new" Indiana Code. My original intent was to set out some step-by-step instructions for users. I also had a large editing project to complete, which required multiple accesses to the Indiana Code, with extensive cutting and pasting. But as it turned out, the more I worked with the 2014 Code, the more frustrated I got.

It used to be that if I wanted to find a specific section of the Indiana Code I'd either use Google*, typing in, say "IC 13-13-1-6" and I'd get a link going directly to the chapter of the General Assembly's online Indiana Code that contained that section.

Or I'd use the "4 boxes" on the General Assembly website to type in the citation. That would take me directly to the chapter I was looking for, and locate the specific section within the chapter.

Try doing that now! First you get this message:
NOTICE: The URL for the current 2014 Indiana Code has been changed from 2015 to 2014. Please click here to be redirected.
With your next click you get a list of links to all 36 Code titles, and have to drill through those, and the pull-down menus, to arrive at the section you seek.

And it is like Groundhog Day, you have to do this every damn time. (Some of you may be familiar with the term "Jerry-rigged".)

It seems obvious that the designers of this system don't have any idea of what users need, and that the people responsible for overseeing this project don't use it, and haven't tested it.

Only the public uses it, and relies on it for the statute law of the State of Indiana, because the General Assembly in its wisdom has phrased out printed books.

So I now have pages and pages of notes I made as I tried to write out a step-by-step guide, starting with how to avoid pulling up the entire Indiana Code in order to ultimately reach a specific section of a specific chapter of a specific title, and moving on through how to see the bottom half of the pages.

Going from there, I looked at the problem of cutting and pasting from the Code. That is something I do (or at least did in the past) constantly. In the past, I preferred to copy from the html versions of a statute, but that choice is now gone. The user is left with copying and pasting from a pdf version, and here I ran into a real oddity. Following precisely the same steps, I did not get the same results every time! Sometimes I ended up with a pdf with a return after each line. That is a hassle when pasting, but not nearly as much as the other times, when I ended up with a pdf with a return after each word! So when I pasted, the result would look like this:


To quote Doug Masson's observation again: "The new Indiana Code website stinks out loud."
* It is not only Google that is no longer useful in accessing the Indiana Code. "Old" links, such as those in pre-July 1, 2014 ILB posts, or in court opinions, no longer work either. I warned of this in a Nov. 19, 2013 post: "One thing that is clear is that all links to bills, Code cites, and the like, as well as links in court opinions, briefs, and other documents, will be broken. This will be true not only for the ILB, but any links elsewhere, going back for at least a decade."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 4, 2014 10:06 AM
Posted to Indiana Law