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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

PRESTO: A WWW Information Architecture for Legislation and PublicPRESTO: A WWW Information Architecture for Legislation and Public

PRESTO (P - Public, Permanent URLs; REST - Representation, State
Transfer; O - Object-oriented) is not something new: its basic ideas are
presupposed in a lot of people's thinking about the web, and many people
have given names to various parts. The elevator pitch for PRESTO is this:
"All documents, views and metadata at all significant levels of
granularity and composition should be available in the best formats
practical from their own permanent hierarchical URIs." I would see PRESTO
as the kind of methodology that a government could adopt as a
whole-of-government approach, in particular for public documents and
of these in particular for legislation and regulations. The problem is
not 'what is the optimal format for our documents?' The question is 'How
can link to the important grains of information in a robust,
technology-neutral way that only needs today's COTS tools?' The format
wars, in this area, are asking exactly the wrong question: they focus
us on the details of format A rather than format B, when we need to be
able to name and link to information regardless of its format:
supra-notational data addressing. If you are wanting to build a large
information system for the kinds of documents, and you want to be truly
vendor neutral (which is not the same thing as saying that preferences
and delivery-capabilities will not still play their part), and you want
to encourage incremental, decentralized ad hoc and planned developments
in particular mash-ups, then you need Permanent URLs (to prevent link rot),
you need REST (for scale etc) and you need object-oriented (in the sense
of bundling the methods for an object with the object itself, rather than
having separate verb-based web services which implement a functional
programming approach: OO here also including introspection so that when
you have a resource you can query it to find the various operations
available). A rule of thumb for a document system that conformed to this
PRESTO approach would be that none of the URLs use '#' (which indicates
that you are groping for information inside a system-dependent level of
granularity rather than being system-neutral) or '?' (which indicates that
you are not treating every object you can think about as a resource in
its own right that may itself have metadata and children.)

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