Covet the British genteel wit. It can make even techno-gadflies sound delightful. “The Nice, Polite Campaign to Gently Encourage Parliament to Publish Bills in a 21st-Century Way. Please. Now.” That, reports the London-based New Statesman, is the “civic hacker” group MySociety‘s subtitle to its Free Our Bills campaign. The idea is to bring crusty old parliamentarians up to tech-savvy speed by having them publish their bills in XML format rather than HTML. The shorter acronym stands for eXtensible mark-up language (take that hypertext mark-up language) and allows for all kinds of dynamic fun for readers scanning legislation. New Statesman explains:
… it could turn its two dimensional bills into glorious three-dimensional structures, incorporating information about who proposed them, who amended them, when they did so, and what other bills and acts of parliament each piece of proposed legislation refers to. Crucially, they could let outside bodies, such as MySociety, extend the XML schemas in order to build services around the bill-making process that would make it easier for the average citizen to get a handle on what on earth it is that parliament does all day.
What sort of services could MySociety offer? It could email you every time a bill mentions something you’ve told the site you’re interested in. It could tell you how your MP is interacting with a bill as it travels through the legislative process. It could create Wikified bills that allowed people to leave notes and comments. These are just the things MySociety has thought of already: the beauty of its suggestion is that it would open the door to anybody who wanted to innovate around the way parliament publishes information, to bring citizens closer to the way parliament makes laws.
Now if we could just get MySociety to whip up a snazzy slogan that will make Americans care about net neutrality.