Government websites are ever changing and cannot be cited. Content changes without notice or accountability. We propose a system of advanced permalinks to make government documents accessible, reliable, and transparent.
My name is Adrian Parsons, I’m an intern for Silona Bonewald at the League of Technical Voters and I’m a design student at the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin.
There’s a real problem with the way the government publishes information. For example, if I want to show you a copy of the Recovery Act, I’ll do what the Wall Street Journal does and send you to a 400 page PDF document.
This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, the entire 400 pages must be downloaded to a hard drive then opened by a third party program. Second, I canﾕt send someone to a specific page much less a specific clause.
The same isn’t true of, say, a New York Times article. If I want to send someone to an article, I don’t send them a PDF of the entire day’s newspaper…
I find the article I want, click “Share” then “Permalink…
and the New York Times gives me a Permalink or a permanent link to that article.
This is what that that permalink looks like. Itﾕs human readable, so just by looking at it, I can tell what day it was published, what section of the paper it was in, and what subject it was on. This is the official link to the article that will work for a very long time; I can cite the link in a Wikipedia entry or in a research paper.
Not all government information is hidden away on PDFs. The USCode, for instance, is digitized and online…
As you can see, however, the code isn’t broken up, so we essentially have the same problem we did with the PDF: we can’t link to specific parts of the code.
Weﾕre proposing that each clause of each document published online have a permalink, so that people can link to each clause specifically.
What happens if I email someone a permalink to this page, and by the time they open the email….
all the content has been deleted? This happens occasionally, more often though a clause is deleted or a few words are changed.
To solve this problem, we’re proposing that not only every clause of every page have a permalink…
but every version of every clause have a permalink. This means that every version of every clause would always be available. This means that government cites would be reliable and citable. This also means that government sites would be accountable for all information they publish -- government couldn’t delete information when it was politically convenient.
Hereﾕs what a permalink would look like under our proposed scheme. It is the same as before, with a date stamp attached. Like before, this is human readable, just looking at the permalink you can tell a lot about the material it is linking to.
The U.K. government is already doing this. Here is the statute law database, each clause of each statute is published and linked. You can also see the history of each clause.
This is how we think the Recovery Act would look if this system were implemented. If I send you a link to this clause, you’ll be taken to a page with the clause at the top of the page and highlighted in some way….
I can also send you a link to a less specific clause, one ore more levels up in the heirarchy….
So I can be as general or as specific with the permalink as I want to be.
We can imagine conditioning users to implement this system. If someone, say, highlights a section…
We’ll bring up a dialogue that offers the permalink as well as tie-ins to social networking applications…
This is what we think a history page might look like. Each version of each clause is available with its respective permalink.
If this were implemented, bloggers, instead of just quoting from a government document….
Could quote and cite a government document. So if I’m reading a blog, I can go and verify what the bogger quoted, and see what context the quote came from.
There’s a lot of other cool things we can do if this system were implemented. Blogrunner right now tracks the most-blogged news stories. We could do the same with government documents -- see the most-blogged documents and clauses, get a sense for what people are blogging about, what they are concerned about, what they find important.
This is a project the League of Technical voters is working on, that literally highlights the differences between different versions of a page. If all versions of a page were saved, we can very easily discern the changes that were made.
Thank you very much for reading. For more information, go to www.citability.org. For more information about the League of Technical Voters, go to www.leagueoftechnicalvoters.org. Also, check out our wiki at http://citability.pbwiki.com
Citability.org: Using advanced permalinks to make government information more accessible, reliable, and transparent