W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-egov-ig@w3.org > October 2008

RE: Government and "web basics"

From: Novak, Kevin <KevinNovak@aia.org>
Date: Thu, 2 Oct 2008 09:26:35 -0400
Message-ID: <7D3AB086C3D86347AE8225DE8190296B01988496@AIA-NT1.aia.org>
To: "Owen Ambur" <Owen.Ambur@verizon.net>, "Sheridan, John" <John.Sheridan@nationalarchives.gov.uk>, <public-egov-ig@w3.org>
Cc: "Adam Schwartz" <aschwartz@gpo.gov>, "Betty Harvey" <harvey@eccnet.com>, "Sylvia Webb" <smwebb@MSN.COM>, "Betsy Fanning" <bfanning@aiim.org>, "Ronald P. Reck" <rreck@rrecktek.com>, "Oscar Azanon" <oscarae@princast.es>
Owen and John,


Agree on the points made but think we are missing one key challenge.
Larger governments have the abilities to invest, rightly or wrongly in
their direction, in the web and providing information and service
delivery mechanisms. 


Developing nations on the other hand, do not have the resources or
knowledge, they don't know where to start nor how efforts would be
sustained if they do. Once and if they do, it is unlikely that they have
the data and telecommunications infrastructure in their countries to
actually reach their citizenry electronically. As we know mobile devices
are proliferating in many developing nations given the affordability of
the devices and the ability to take advantage of wireless
communications. There is a lot of activity in this area and on the topic
concerning the general web across many organizations and groups, several
of which I have been involved with. As well, through my work on the
World Digital Library project sponsored by the Library of Congress and
UNESCO, I experienced many of the challenges and stories first hand and
recognized what a formidable task the developing nations have. 


What I don't believe has been focused on yet is how governments can and
should seek to deliver information and services via mobile devices. What
standards and specifications exist to account for the particular or
unique needs of governments? Not many that I am aware of. If we are to
be successful in our endeavor, we need to account for these alternate
delivery mechanisms. This can be accomplished by synergizing with other
W3C group or external organizations and not be something we bear on our


I believe this needs to be accounted for in our work and offers us
significant challenges in our scope but key to our mission.


On the topic of solutions like URIs:


Items like URI's are somewhat familiar to larger governments who handle
significant amounts of electronic documents. Although, I myself would
argue, given my experience with many international libraries and digital
repository communities and efforts, that even the basic knowledge of the
how, what, when, where, and why doesn't always exist. As John mentioned,
there needs to be basic understanding at a high level and not in
technical terms what is possible and why things should be done. I am not
sure we need to be the trumpet or standard bearers in this realm given
the work of many others but definitely something we should account for.
A significant portion of our work needs to focus on communicating in
plain terms the value and opportunities of electronic government.


Some ramblings for a Thursday morning.


On a personal note, Owen, I want to thank you for your commitment and
level of involvement to the group. I truly appreciate it.







Kevin Novak

Vice President, Integrated Web Strategy and Technology

The American Institute of Architects

1735 New York Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20006


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From: Owen Ambur [mailto:Owen.Ambur@verizon.net] 
Sent: Wednesday, October 01, 2008 10:53 AM
To: 'Sheridan, John'
Cc: Adam Schwartz; Betty Harvey; Sylvia Webb; Betsy Fanning; 'Ronald P.
Reck'; Novak, Kevin; Novak, Kevin; 'Oscar Azanon'
Subject: RE: Government and "web basics"


John, I'm copying several of my StratML Committee colleagues since the
second and third to the last paragraphs in your message below are
closely related to an issue I have raised with them, i.e., how best to
identify each of the individual goals and objectives established by
organizations in their strategic plans (taking into account the need for
version control at the element level as well as the periodic relocation
of files on the Web).


Having watched the URI/URL debate for a number of years, I'm not sure we
can resolve it in the StratML standard or the W3C eGov IG.  However,
perhaps we might be able to enable users of the Web to resolve it in a
de facto, if not also a de jure manner, e.g., by including an
<IdentifierType> element in the StratML schema (and other schemas) and
allowing the debate to be resolved by what actually occurs on the Web in
the years ahead.  (Content authors would be free to indicate whatever
type of ID they choose to apply and, over time, the de facto standard(s)
should emerge.)


BTW, I agree with your assertion that government *should* provide URIs
for .gov resources and perhaps for other resources as well.  However, it
might be more politically feasible to give the owners of
non-governmental resources the opportunity (in a standardized way) to
provide identifiers (of any type they choose) for their own resources
before trying to impose the hand of government.  Given the speed at
which the bureaucracy moves, that might also prove to be a quicker means
of achieving the objective.




From: public-egov-ig-request@w3.org
[mailto:public-egov-ig-request@w3.org] On Behalf Of Sheridan, John
Sent: Wednesday, October 01, 2008 9:42 AM
To: public-egov-ig@w3.org
Subject: Government and "web basics"


There are three modalities for governments' use of the web:

* to deliver public services, to citizens and businesses (providing
information or transactional services)
* to engage with citizens through the use of social media on government
websites or through engagement with online communities elsewhere on the
* as infrastructure, to enable others to build their own products and

These modalities can be loosely characterised as "provide, engage and
enable". The extent to which a government chooses to fulfil any or all
of these roles on the web is a socio-political question, tightly
connected to levels of public funding and the more general development
of public services.

Advocates of the interventionist state are more likely to support a
strong and overt role for  government on the web, whereas supporters of
smaller government seize on the web's potential to enable the state to
step back. The state may seek to establish online communities as part of
public service provision or instead engage with existing communities
hosted by others. If the UK government's experience is any yard stick
then both modes of engagement are being adopted with much to learn about
the relative levels of success. 

There are fundamental differences of view about the nature and role of
the state in society. Such intrinsically political questions will
increasingly play themselves out in terms of governments use of the web
as they do in other spheres of public policy. As the Web becomes more
important and integral to our lives so does the potential for the
politicisation of the state's role on the web as provider and/or

The web has enormous potential to facilitate public services reform,
opening up new models of provision and engagement. Millions of people
are using simple tools like discussion forums, blogs and wikis, to
advise and help each other. Often this support aids the achievement of
public service outcomes, for example by supporting parents through
difficulties with their children (e.g. netmums or mumsnet). The extent
to which people trust each other in such forums is striking, for example
helping one another to navigate the complexities of the public sector,
such as accessing advice on taxation issues (e.g.

The prevalence and shear scale of these communities is significant. This
is not a blip or a fad but a new social trend that is making the web
relevant to every area of public policy. For officials with a background
in information technology and long standing interest in the web it is
striking to be joined by policy colleagues whose primary concern is
health or education. The motivations can be starkly different but there
is a growing level of interest in the true potential of the web.

Another important part of the context for the e-Government Interest
Group is a significant tightening in public expenditure as a
consequences of the turmoil in global financial system. Many governments
have made a significant investment in their web presence and with
declining revenues will need to achieving efficiency savings in the
immediate term. Communications and Information Technology budgets are
likely to come under increasing pressure. In response governments are
likely to want to consolidate their web presence around fewer sites, in
order to reduce costs and deliver more comprehensible and joined-up
public services. It will be important for this group to articulate the
case that the use of standards and knowledge sharing saves costs. Doing
the *right* thing is not necessarily more expensive than not - and in
the long run saves money.

When characterising governments' current use of the web a number of
general observations can be made. Whilst increasingly cognisant of the
opportunities afforded by social media, typically  governments are still
operating a broadcasting paradigm. Websites are a vehicle for mass
communication and for the delivery of transactional services. In this
environment statistics showing the scale of usage are celebrated as
indicators of success in themselves. The structure of a government web
estate is often organisationally driven. This is problematic as the
structures of government continually change, resulting in significant
disruption to the presentation of government on the web. Government
departments can be a surprisingly transient entities. Transposed to
namespaces and URIs this is quick sand on which to build an essential
information infrastructure using the Web.

To give an example of the consequences of this churn, governments have
difficulty maintaining persistent URIs even to documents. Increasing
volumes of official reports and documents are published on the web alone
making the long term availability of those resources an important issue.
In this context 'link rot' is not just an inconvenience of the user, it
undermines public accountability as documents cease to be available.

Firmly in the "provide mode" many governments have devised a channels
strategy for their web estate. This has been developed primarily from a
communications perspective. What is more generally absent is a data
strategy from a web engineering perspective. It is rare in government to
think about website development as the engineering of basic information
infrastructure. Surveying governments use of the web, RESTful principles
are not widely in evidence. It is as if when developing a channels
strategy sometimes governments forget that they are part of the whole

Underlying these issues is one of particular interest to the W3C as a
technology standards organisation, not just about adoption and usage of
its standards, but about the understanding of them. As a supplier and
provenance source of information on the web, governments have an
important role to play. There is potential for significant social and
commercial innovation using public sector information made available
using the web.

It is an important architectural principle of the web that "global
naming leads to global network effects". Is this, and the other basic
principles of web architecture, properly understood?

The reality is that few officials responsible for commissioning or
managing government websites are familiar with the basic principles of
the web - how many will have read the volumes "Architecture of the World
Wide Web" for example? Lacking a government context and being aimed at a
more expert audience, the W3C guidelines and specifications are almost
impenetrable to many web decision makers in government.

What is needed is a bridge into that corpus - a simple statement of "web
basics" in the context of government activity on the web. This can be
supported by the use-cases which address more detailed issues in each of
the modalities of governments use of the web ("provide, engage,

Unless we (the people in governments responsible for what we do on the
web) can develop a basic understanding of how the web works and why,
there will be a significant constraint on governments' ability to reach
their potential on the web and thus on the potential of the web itself.

For example, there are entities and concepts that deserve an identifier
(a URI) that the government should properly assign. These range from
URIs for all the schools, hospitals, police stations - even the courts,
through to URIs for interoperability artefacts such as XML Schema that
are being used.

The importance of giving resources URIs is something that is not
sufficiently understood, particularly in the context of governments'
role on the web. There are other examples of basic web principles which
are being overlooked, overwhelmingly through lack of knowledge and

If the e-Government Interest Group is able to address this one issue -
finding a way to convey the basic web principles in a simple way to the
non technical audience - it will do both governments and the W3C a great

John Sheridan 

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Received on Thursday, 2 October 2008 13:27:24 UTC

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