Here is the short essay originally posted on my Leveson Report (As It Should Be) project site, explaining my reasons for initiatin the project.
Its about time I publicised a project I’ve been working on in my spare time:
The Leveson Report (As It Should Be).
No, this isn’t a rewrite of the report where I change all Sir Brian’s recommendations to suit my politics! Rather it is
An open, linkable, HTML version of Lord Justice Leveson’s report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press
Over on the project website I have published a short explanation of why I initiated this project. In short: I think in a modern democracy, publishing accessible versions of public documents is essential. Having a simple HTML edition of a crucial text such as the Leveson Report means that more people can read and engage with it.
I hope the site is easy to navigate. To view a particular chapter of the report the site visitor simply has to type the part and chapter number after the website address. So to visit chapter 2 in Part B, you would type:
In a similar manner you can jump straight to a particular section or even a single paragraph in the report. Full instructions are available on the project website.
My hope is that other people can take this project and run with it. All the HTML pages that make up this version of the report are available on GitHub, so anyone can download the files and host their own version of the report (here’s a handy ZIP file). I confess that the underlying markup (i.e. the raw code of each page) is not completely perfect, and I would welcome any help in polishing the pages. On GitHub, anyone can ‘fork’ the project and begin making alterations.
I have set up a mailing list. If the Leveson Report (As It Should Be) project is of interest, please consider subscribing. There are options to be notified of every change to the site files, or just major changes and developments with the project.
For fun, I’ve created a Twitter account, @LevesonAISB, which is automatically tweeting links to various sections of the report. I’d love it if someone helped me set up randomised Tweeting of sentences pulled from the document.
This is not the my first project on the subject of making public documents more public. See also The Defamation Act: Complete & Unabridged, Get Yourself A Cheap #Leveson Report, and Tracked Changes In the Defamation Bill.
One of my bugbears is the widespread failure of website creators to construct their code (well, technically markup) properly. Back in 2005, Creative Review awarded me ‘Star Letter‘ for my critique of the pretty but entirely inaccessible websites that were being held up as the pinnacle of design. “The web is a medium in itself, not a metaphor for print.”
In particular, I am continually dismayed by sites that present long screeds of text without anchor links that allow linking to a specific part of the text. I wrote a WordPress plugin that adds these invisible bookmarks to the underlying markup.
That’s all very well for my site, but what about other sites? You cannot edit someone else’s content to add the links you want. Continue reading
Readers of this blog will know how irritated I get with the quality of parliamentary and government papers online. Transcripts and other documentation are frequently uploaded as PDFs, as if the only thing a researcher or campaigner plans to do with the document is print it. The online version of the Houses of Parliament Hansard still retains references to columns and pages, and linking to excerpts of text is a laborious process.
For more on this, read my rant: The mess under the bonnet of the Houses of Parliament website.
So imagine my delight to see the launch of Say It, a new tool from MySociety. It provides a tool to put transcripts of debates, court cases, and official inquiries online. The tool has been launched with a searchable, linkable version of the Leveson Inquiry sessions.
It is this sort of thing that empowers grassroots campaigns and catalyses democracy. And by ‘democracy’, I don’t just mean voting, but the idea that citizens make the decisions together.
SayIt dovetails nicely with a project I have been tinkering with in my spare time – converting the text of the four volume Leveson Report into HTML, (though I confess I almost had a heart attack when I saw the link to the MySociety tool – I thought that my efforts had been duplicated!)
Strike one item off the bucket list: I’ve written a WordPress plugin.
Paragraph Level IDs is available now from the WordPress plugin directory, and I’ve created a static page on this site to explain the detail. But in essence, the plugin adds lots of little anchors into the HTML of your blog posts, before each paragraph.
This means that the author and users can link to specific paragraphs in a piece of online text.
This functionality is extremely useful when dealing with long screeds of text. Someone may quote a bon mot, but if you follow the link to where the writer says the quote came from, you often have to trawl through many paragraphs to find the quote and check the context. If a site has anchors, or id attributes embedded in the HTML, the person creating the link can send the reader to the exact paragraph in the text.
This is a very old technique, one that has been present in HTML since its earliest incarnations. But few people use it routinely on their webpages. This plugin offers an easy way to alleviate that inefficiency! Continue reading
Browsing through the Global Voices ‘Most Read in 2012‘ articles, I noticed for the first time the effort that the site makes to accomodate multiple languages.
First, each article has a header saying ‘this post is also available in…’ Then, within the text, any quotes are presented in their original language, followed by a translation. This article on a Citizens’ Basic Income initiative in Switzerland is a good example.
Such efforts always introduce a design problem. The foreign language breaks the ‘flow’ of the text, much like a banner advert in the middle of an an article. On the Global Voices pages, the designers have made some slight attempt to slightly de-emphasise the original text in favour of the English translation. However, the long list of alternative languages at the tope of the article presents a barrier to actually reading the text, even when the type size is small.
Technical advances could help solve this problem. Automated tools like Google Translate allow you to put a rudimentary translation behind a single mouse click (you can read this very blog post in French, Arabic, Chinese or Hindi, for example).
However, it strikes me that some development of HTML standards to accomodate alternative languages would help. It is possible to embed extra data into any piece of text on a website. I ranted a bit last month about how quotes and links should include citation information within their code. The abbreviation tag (<abbr>) typically allows the writer to include more information for the reader, about a particluar acronym. An example of this feature in action: HTML.
It would be great if a ‘translation’ tag or an ‘original language’ tag were made available in HTML. Then, any given piece of text could be directly associated with any alternative language translations. This would allow web designers or app creators to display the translations in the way most appropriate to their content. It would also give readers the flexibility to show or hide the orginal language text.
Translation is a highly cultural and political act. How a piece of text is translated matters, and the nuance and tone imposed on the text by a sympathetic or antagonistic translator can have huge consequences. Technical innovations that allow the original and translated texts to be compared easily would mean more transparency, greater international and inter-cultural understanding, and perhaps even help students to learn foreign languages, and the art of translation. It may also help unify projects like Wikipedia, where there are almost three-hundred encyclopædias evolving in disparate directions.
Does anyone know if there has been any work or research done on this subject?
Excuse me if I go off on a technical rant for a moment. I find it very irritating when people don’t use HTML mark-up properly. I can forgive the occasional user, or those relying on WYSIWYG editors, but for large, professionally coded websites, there is no excuse for mark-up which does not apply standards correctly.
What has vexed me so? The Houses of Parliament website. In many ways this is a great resource. They offer video of parliamentary debates, and the Hansard of the previous day’s proceedings is posted promptly the following moring. However, the underlying mark-up is flawed. Continue reading