Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Being Objective

It’s fair to say that most Local Authority websites are a collection of text based articles, in fact that’s a reasonably good description of most websites. Sure, many will have a forum or two, perhaps an events calendar, in fact all Local Authority websites will have at least a small amount of more complex functionality, but on the whole they’re based around pages of text.

Recently I’ve started to look at website content in a different way, not just as text but as a collection of objects. To illustrate what I mean by this, let’s take an example of a page about a library. A conventional page would be an article with textual information about the library. It would probably contain things like the address of the library, contact details, perhaps a map, perhaps events at the library and so on.

An object however would be a digital representation of that library. The object would contain metadata about what type of object the library is, the latitude and longitude of where the library is located, what image should represent the library and so on.

Contact details could be imported into a directory, events into a calendar, rather than including a map and this object could be included in a map itself, and not just on the Local Authority’s website, but any other that wished to re-use the content.

I can’t take credit for these ideas, many have proposed them before me. Sir Tim Berners Lee coined the phrase the Semantic Web to describe this and Facebook have big plans for Open Graph once they release Timeline. I’ve not seen them referred to in the context of a Local Authority website however and to me it seems to fit well with services and facilities that a Council might offer or operate.

Those who are already acquainted with what I’ve been discussing will recognise that I’ve barely touched the subject and a quick view of sites like schema.org will confirm this but what of those struggling to see the benefits of this approach?

My original incentive for looking at website content this way came from Facebook. Including basic Open Graph tags and a Like button on specific pages contained on your site means that each object also becomes a Page on Facebook.

If for nothing else, then I think being “objective” is worth it.
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.