With all the buzz at a conceptual (social media, gov 2.0) and brand (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) level, we sometimes overlook the most important bit. It’s also the most humble.
The world wide web is predicated on each discrete chunk of data or information having a unique address.
Don’t believe me?
I can reference Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau’s seminal paper WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project published November 12, 1990. But most importantly I can link to it.
The world wide web is designed to be a platform for sharing. We can point to things, and we can point to information about things.
So – URIs, URLs, web addresses. Everybody gets it. Sort of.
As local authorities we continue to publish media releases on our website that contain not a single link. Refer to legislation without including a path to the relevant clause. Talk about facilities or venues without a definitive web address for either. Cite statistics that cannot be independently computed. Favour lists of ‘useful links’ over links that are useful.
Part of the problem is that our publishing paradigm remains ‘print’. We continue to use brochures and booklets as our template for web publishing. This approach favours the static page that collates and summarises information from the perspective of a single author at a particular moment in time. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But we could do better.
We want to tell people about our infrastructure projects. Let’s create a page called infrastructure projects. It lists what we’ve built in recent years. And highlights the exciting new project that is about to start. Being modern, we’ll update this information over the course of the year. Named anchors will allow individual projects to be hyperlinked. Go, world wide web!
Only… two years later, you’re asked to delete several projects from the page. Old news, no longer relevant. And the page is getting a bit long and messy. Also edit that exciting new project – remove the process detail. It makes the page look outdated.
So now some projects can’t be referenced and we have lost the chronology of the exciting new project (announcements, updates, etc).
The webby way preferences multiple, discrete, permanent information chunks that we bind using the link.
The project has its own permanent link. It references the teams and organisations involved, as well as official reports and decisions. Its evolution can be tracked by the announcements and updates because each is an individual content item with its own link and date stamp.
As web professionals, we have a duty to educate our clients (council staff). I’m not sure of the best approach, but perhaps an end-of-year report that links to each of the organisation’s achievements over the year is an example that’ll get attention from senior staff. If you can’t link to a project, its absence might do the talking for you.
We can also point to social media, which give us great links by default. It’s possible to refer not only to a blog post but to a particular comment on that post; an instance within a YouTube video or a discussion grouped by hashtag or keyword search.
Our websites should look to get as granular.
And while we’re here, let’s air some other common gripes:
(We won’t even bother to mention “click here” or framesets or legalese requiring permission to link!)
The next few years will see the link take on a third dimension as we go from a web of documents to a web of data. (For a practical guide to what this entails see Putting Government Data online by Tim Berners-Lee, June 2009.)
In 2010 let’s remind our clients that (most) everything we publish deserves and is entitled to its own link.