OPSI Legislation – heading towards the semantic web

By Nick Holmes on October 10, 2007
2 comments
Filed under Legislation

The OPSI Report on Public Access Scheme Funding 2006/07 gives a good summary of recent and planned improvements in the OPSI legislation site. (See also my earlier post on improved access.) Here are some extracts from the (pdf) report:

Over the last year and a half the Office of Public Sector Information has used funding reallocated from the public library subsidy for printed legislation to improve government’s free online legislation services to the citizen. … This report shows the specific improvements we have made in 2006/07 with this funding.

New page design

The most apparent change made as part of the programme is that legislative content is now presented using the same user interface design as other parts of the OPSI website. … Providing visitors with a website view of the content, with a consistent site wide layout and clear navigation options, gives first time users a sense of where they have arrived and what other possibilities are provided by the site. Important usability features, such as prominent bread crumb navigation (the “you are here” tracks at the top of each page) provide a context for visitors to explore the site more fully.

PDF versions of primary legislation back to 1800

We know that many visitors to the OPSI website value having a “print version” in PDF, to see an Act or Statutory Instrument as it appears on the print page and to produce their own paper copy. OPSI started publishing PDF versions of legislation in October 2005 and backdated the catalogue of PDFs to 2001, with primary legislation from 1999. This year OPSI has used funding from the Public Access Scheme to backdate the range of PDFs available for Acts of Parliament to 1800, where the Act is wholly or substantially in force.

Directly addressable content fragments

The republished legislation includes a highly granular unique identifier scheme, which allows specific sections and sub sections within a legislation item to be directly reference by a URI, which resolves to the right place in the online version. … This URI scheme can be adopted and used by others and it is hoped will contribute to the development of other more semantic representations of UK legislation as we move towards the Semantic Web (or the web of data).

Improved search

Several enhancements have been made to the way the website search facility works. The search engine, based on the Google Search Appliance, has been integrated with APR’s Semaphore product, to provide for a subject based refinement facility. The user performs their search in the usual way, but with their results they are given an opportunity to refine the search by a subject term from the Integrated Public Sector Vocabulary, or to search for related subjects to their original search term.

User created RSS Feeds

The website search engine also allows visitors to create and then subscribe to their own RSS feeds. To create an RSS Feed, for example to be alerted to any new legislation which is published about “pensions”, the user searches for “pensions” in the normal way. At the top of the search results is an option to subscribe to the pensions RSS feed. When a new piece of legislation concerning “pensions” is published, the new items will appear in the feed.

Incorporating statutes from the SLD

OPSI is working with SPO to bring our online legislative services together, to create a single place where visitors can access the widest range of legislative content held by the government alongside supporting material. The first step in this process is to publish a most recent version of revised statutes from the Statute Law Database, using the same style and approach as OPSI has taken to publishing legislation as enacted. The first stage of this work, published revised statutes up to 1988, will be completed by the end of the September 2007. This will help improve access to the content in the Statute Law Database, particularly for non-legal experts, less likely to need the more sophisticated features provided by the Statute Law Database website.

Plans for 2007/08

  • Detailed usability testing, using eye-tracking software, to evaluate the improvements made to the online legislation service, identify yet more enhancements and to help shape options for bringing together legislation on the OPSI website with content from the Statute Law Database.
  • Extending the scope of legislation published from the Statute Law Database from 1988 to date.
  • Republishing secondary legislation to the same standard as primary legislation.
  • Developing and applying a legislation specific taxonomy, to aid the searching and inter-relating of legislation.
  • Publishing non-print Statutory Instruments online.
  • Publishing the legislative tables of effect for secondary legislation online.
  • Continuing to add alt attributes to images and table summary information to ensure the full contents of legislation is accessible to those using screen readers and other assistive technology.

2 comments

Nick, I like the additional functionality of a user being able to create their own RSS Feed. My only gripe is that when I subscribe to the feed in Bloglines the feed is called Search Results for xxx or whatever the search is, not particularly useful. A better heading would surely be OPSI Search results for xxx? or am I making a mountain out of a molehill!

by James Mullan on 11 October 2007 at 1:15 pm. #

No, I agree completely, deficiencies in “channel” titles are common and are unforgivable shortcomings.

by Nick Holmes on 11 October 2007 at 1:34 pm. #