July 13, 2006

Cleaning up Democracy

Part of democracy committees job for next year is to clean up whats called the 'web constitution'. This is basically the part of the Union's website under the 'democracy' button. Part of this includes having a copy of the University of Warwick Students Union Constitution. Having read this document many times, I thought I'd sit down and think about what needs to be done. It struck me that the biggest problem about the constitution, and further almost all union output, is that its a word document. Now I think Word is a great program, it does have its uses, and does some things very well. But when it comes to web integration, it really sucks. Its not semantic, uses proprietary styles, and is a pain to search. Also, having to maintain, word files, pdfs and html copies of everything is really lame.

When looking over all the documents a few things are apparent:

  1. Documents are highly repetitive within themselves
  2. There are repetitions across documents
  3. They are hierarchical
  4. Only the content need be stored, not the styling

It seems clear that one format would be perfect for storing the Union's documents, XML.

It would be very easy to output to documents in a variety of formats, especially the web, where we could leverage the power of style sheets. It would be easier to maintain, as the content would be in one place, not three different files (word, pdf, html).

I think it would be great for Warwick to lead the way in this, if it ever happened.

- 6 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. Nick Seagrave

    Hi Steven

    I'm not sure it'll be XML that is used, I'm not that technical. There are however plans to do exactly what you've just said.


    13 Jul 2006, 18:16

  2. Wizard,

    don't suppose you could point me in the direction of who's looking at this?

    13 Jul 2006, 18:22

  3. Chris May

    OpenOffice, and (I think) the next version of MS office, will do 'save as XML' , thus allowing you to get a nice familiar authoring environment, but still strip out all the cruft once it's uploaded to the server.

    13 Jul 2006, 18:44

  4. they will, but thats missing the point, we should have a purely semantic way of writing policy, thus:

    <policy number="123" name="Banning Silly Things">
    <paragraph>'Silly Things'</paragraph>
    <paragraph>To ban 'Silly Things'</paragraph>
    Would be enough.

    13 Jul 2006, 19:53

  5. We could, and probably should, have something like that (I'd change the schema a bit but that doesn't really matter). In fact, I think I tried to get something like this years ago, the trouble was, and indeed is, that anyone in a position to do implement it normally has things that are way more urgent, and generally more important, to do. It's also not as simple as you might think, the difficulty isn't having a system which makes sensible use of the data, it's having one that can be maintained and one that everyone who needs to use it is happy (not just able) to use. That requires the time and involvement of quite a few different staff and officers – many of whom don't have that time to spare. There are a huge number of things that the Union could use each element of it's resources for, the difficulty is choosing the most important.

    I'm not saying your suggestion shouldn't happen, just that the fact that it hasn't, and possibly won't, doesn't necessarily indicate anything other than that there were more important things (ie. things that would do more to further our aims) that needed or need doing and that required the same resources.

    13 Jul 2006, 23:19

  6. I do realise that a file format is one small part of the solution, but my point is that using word at the moment is a huge barrier to making the Unions documents open and available, this is of course assuming this is what the Union wants.

    I do not want to have to sit copying/pasting from word into html every time a document changes, this is not a quick task.

    14 Jul 2006, 13:11

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