Transcripts of conversations with mySociety people

Right, so you want to know what 'machine readable' means. There's more to it than what you say.

Go back in history: the introduction of the printing press contributed hugely to the dissemination of knowledge and information... in an unprecedented way.

But in the last 20 years, we've seen an exponential availability of information, computers together with the internet made the access, and the production, and dissemination of documents easy and fast, shattering the time and place barrier that printed documents had.

Computers and the internet have been used essentially like a super-printer to disseminate information fast and cheaply, but the way we read information has basically not changed, only the medium we read from has changed.

But computers and the internet are not just like the next evolutionary step of the printing process. Computers are meant to compute, they process and provide the opportunity to also process information.. not just disseminate information.

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of Internet was among the first to highlight the need do better. I've got quote here, I'm going to read it to you:

“Most of the Web's content today is designed for humans to read, not for computer programs to manipulate meaningfully.

"Computers can adeptly parse Web pages for layout and routine processing--here a header, there a link to another page--but in general, computers have no reliable way to process the semantic (…)

"The Semantic Web is not a separate Web but an extension of the current one, in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation. (…)

"[It] will usher in significant new functionality as machines become much better able to process and "understand" the data that they merely display at present.”

That's from ‘The semantic web’, Scientific American, May 2001.

So the web has been stuck in the printing paradigm, content to display information: it has mainly been a medium of documents for people rather than for data and information that can be processed automatically.

Only by having documents machine readable, will we be able to really harness the power of computer and web to deliver advance information services and to cope with the huge amount of information available in an effective fashion, making productive use of data.

Akoma Ntoso is nothing more than an XML specialised language, made of terms and rules, that computers can read.

Akoma Ntoso makes documents machine readable and it is this that allow us to build advance information services, like SayIt, that would not have been possible otherwise.

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