Following on Dale’s inauguration day post, Will XML Help this President?,  we have today’s invigorating news that President Obama is committed to more Internet-based openness. The CNET article highlights some of the most compelling items from the two memoes, but I am especially heartened by this statement from the memo on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA):

I also direct the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to update guidance to the agencies to increase and improve information dissemination to the public, including through the use of new technologies, and to publish such guidance in the Federal Register.

The key phrases are "increase and improve information dissemination" and "the use of new technologies." This is keeping in spirit with the FOIA–the presumption is that information (and content) created by or on behalf of the government is public property and should be accessible to the public.  This means that the average person should be able to easily find government content and be able to readily consume it–two challenges that the content technology industry grapples with every day.

The issue of public access is in fact closely related to the issue of long-term archiving of content and information. One of the reasons I have always been comfortable recommending XML and other standards-based technology for content storage is that the content and data would outlast any particular software system or application. As the government looks to make government more open, they should and likely will look at standards-based approaches to information and content access.

Such efforts will include core infrastructure, including servers and storage, but also a wide array of supporting hardware and software falling into three general categories:

  • Hardware and software to support the collection of digital material. This ranges from hardware and software for digitizing and converting analog materials, software for cataloging digital materials with the inclusion of metadata, hardware and software to support data repositories, and software for indexing the digital text and metadata.
  • Hardware and software to support the access to digital material. This includes access tools such as search engines, portals, catalogs, and finding aids, as well as delivery tools allowing users to download and view textual, image-based, multimedia, and cartographic data.
  • Core software for functions such as authentication and authorization, name administration, and name resolution.

Standards such as PDF-A have emerged to give governments a ready format for long-term archiving of routine government documents. But a collection of PDF/A documents does not in and of itself equal a useful government portal. There are many other issues of navigation, search, metadata, and context left unaddressed. This is true even before you consider the wide range of content produced by the government–pictorial, audio, video, and cartographic data are obvious–but also the wide range of primary source material that comes out of areas such as medical research, energy development, public transportation, and natural resource planning.

President Obama’s directives should lead to interesting and exciting work for content technology professionals in the government. We look forward to hearing more.

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