I’m often asked what XML editor it is built from. The answer is that we built our own. Why? That would seem like madness. Building an editor, any editor, is very difficult. Indeed, I built my first editor way back in 1985 and in the years since I’ve built or customized many editors ranging from schematic editors for PCB and wire harness design, visual language-based editors for designing microchips, as well as a few legislative drafting editors. Of all the editors I’ve built, building LegisPro has been the most challenging.
If you are like me, learning a new technology by reading the standards documents is a difficult task. Standards documents are written to describe a technology, not teach it. They are supposed to completely describe the standard, preferably without resorting to examples to make their point. They use precise language and complicated words prescribed by standards style guides.
LegisPro Sunrise is almost done!. It has taken longer than we had hoped it would, but we are finally getting ready to begin limited distribution of LegisPro Sunrise, our productised implementation of our LegisPro drafting and amending tools for legislation and regulations. If you are interested in participating in our early release program, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you already signed up, we will be contacting you shortly.
When I started my blog five years ago, I said would try not to get too technical. Overall, I’ve stuck to that. However, with Akoma Ntoso now essentially standardised, I think it is time to start covering some areas of it in a little more technical detail. So, from time to time, I’m going to delve into a little technical mumbo jumbo to cover some subjects that come up frequently.
For the past two weeks I’ve been in Italy attending the LEX Summer School and Akoma Ntoso Developer’s Workshop at the Ravenna campus of the University of Bologna. This is my eighth summer school in Ravenna and my tenth overall LEX Summer School including the two U.S. editions. It’s always one of the highlights of my year.
Two great news piece of news this week! First, the documentation for Akoma Ntoso has now been officially released by OASIS. Second, we’re announcing the latest version of our LegisPro drafting platform for Akoma Ntoso, codenamed “Sunrise”.
Do you need to escape a technology eddy? In fluid dynamics, an eddy is the swirling of a fluid that causes a reverse current against a downstream flow. It often forms behind a major obstacle. The swirling motion of an eddy creates resistance to forward motion by creating a backward force. Eddies are also seen in air and electromagnetic systems.
Yes, we’ve now built a full real-world legislative drafting editor using the final release of the new OASIS standard for legislative XML known as Akoma Ntoso. No, it wasn’t easy, but drafting tools never are. While our project is not yet a finished implementation, it shows that Akoma Ntoso is adaptable to some of the most challenging demands it will face as a world-wide standard for digital legislation.
Lately we’ve become quite Agile. More and more, our government customers have started to impose Agile methodologies on us. While I’ve always thought of our existing methodologies as being quite nimble, adopting Agile and Scrum methodologies has required some adaptation on my part.
Early in the game, I started to find Agile to be more of a hindrance than a help. The drumbeat of each sprint was wearing me out – and I started to feel the inevitable effects of burnout creeping into the my every thought.
But then a remarkable thing happened. I found myself not only defending Agile, but advocating it for our other projects. I was quite surprised to find myself having become such a big supporter. So what […]
I’ve recently been marveling at how software development has changed in recent years. Our development processes are increasingly integrated with both our government customers and our commercial partners — using modern Agile methodologies. This largely fulfills a grand vision I was a part of very early in my career.
I started my career at the Boeing Company working on Internal Methods and Processes Development (IMPD). Very soon, the vision that came about was the idea of Concurrent Engineering where all aspects of the product development cycle, including all disciplines, all partners, and all customers, were tightly integrated in a harmonious flow of information. Of course, making the vision a reality at Boeing’s scale has taken some time. Early on, Boeing […]
It’s been a while since I updated my blog – a whole year in fact. The reason is that I’ve been hard at work finishing our web-based XML editor, LegisPro, supporting our projects with the U.S. House, while simultaneously developing an Akoma Ntoso-based implementation for the U.K. and Scottish Parliaments. The challenge has been all-consuming.
Next week I will be giving a couple of talks with Matt Lynch of the Scottish Parliament at the LEX Summer School 2016 in Ravenna, Italy and then, the following week, by myself at NALIT 2016 in Indianapolis. My company, Xcential, also intend to show glimpses at our booth the Data Transparency Conference in Washington D.C. on the 28th September. We’ve got a busy month […]
As a proponent of XML for legislation, I’m often asked why an XML approach is better than a more traditional approach using a word processor. The answer is simple – it’s all about connected information.
The digital end point in a legislative system can no longer be publication of PDFs. PDFs are nothing but a kludgy way to digitize paper — a way to preserve the old traditions and avoid the future. Try reading a PDF on a cell phone and you see the problem. Try clicking on a citation in a PDF and you see the problem. Try and scrape the information out of a PDF to make it computer readable and you see the problem. The only useful function […]
Every so often, someone suggests that GitHub would be a great way to manage legislation. Usually, we roll our eyes at the naïve suggestion and that is that.
However, there are a good many similarities that do deserve consideration. What if the amending process was supported by a tool that, while maybe not GitHub, worked on the same principles?
My company, Xcential, built the amending solution for the California Legislature, using a process we like to call Amendments in Context. With this process, a proposed revision of a bill is drafted and then the amendments necessary to produce that revision are extracted as an amendment document. That amendment document, which really becomes an enumeration of proposed changes in […]
Our new rulemaking LegisProedit is coming along nicely. It’s a web-based XML drafting tool specifically designed for the rigors of rulemaking tasks such as legislative bill drafting. It supports both the Akoma Ntoso and the USLM legislative models and can be customized to support any other model if necessary.
This past week I gave a demonstration of it at the LEX US Summer School at George Mason University in Washington D.C. With trepidation, I allowed everyone to have a hands-on experience with it as I provided guidance. This was the first time the editor had been used by anyone outside of Xcential and the first time we had stressed server performance. While certainly not glitch […]
Last week was a very good week for my company, Xcential.
We started the week hosting a breakfast put on by the Data Transparency Coalition at the Booz Allen Hamilton facility in Washington D.C.. The topic was Transforming Law and Regulation. Unfortunately, an issue at home kept me away but I was able to make a brief pre-recorded presentation and my moderating role was played by Mark Stodder, our company President. Thank you, Mark!
Next up was the first U.S. edition of the LEX Summer School from Italy. I have attended this summer school every year since 2010 in Italy and it’s great to see the same opportunity for an open dialog amongst the legal informatics […]
I’ve been working hard for a long time — building an all new web-based editor for Akoma Ntoso. We will be showing it for the first time at the upcoming Akoma Ntoso LEX Summer School in Washington D.C.
Unlike our earlier AKN/Editor, this editor is a pure XML editor designed from the ground up using the XML capabilities that modern browsers possess. This editor is much more robust, more precise, and is very scalable.
- Configurable XML models — including Akoma Ntoso and USLM
- Edit full documents or portions of large documents
- Flexible selection and editing regardless of XML structure
- Built-in redlining (change tracking) supporting textual AND structural changes
- Browse document sources with drag-and-drop.
- Full undo & […]
In my last blog post I covered the public review of the new proposed Akoma Ntoso (LegalDocML) standard for legal documents. Please keep the comments coming. In order to comment, please send email to email@example.com. If you wish to subscribe to this mailing list, please follow the instructions at https://www.oasis-open.org/committees/comments/index.php?wg_abbrev=legaldocml
In addition, there are three upcoming events related to Akoma Ntoso which you may wish to participate in: (this list coming from Monica Palmirani, the chair of the OASIS LegalDocML technical committee)
1. Akoma Ntoso Summer School, 27-31 July, 2015, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia (USA): http://aknschool.cirsfid.unibo.it
Registration fee: http://aknschool.cirsfid.unibo.it/logistics/registrations-and-fees/
Application Form: http://aknschool.cirsfid.unibo.it/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/ApplicationForm.pdf
Deadline: end of […]
It’s been many years in the making, but the standardised version of Akoma Ntoso is now finally in public review. You can find the official announcement here. The public review started May 7th and will end on June 5th — which is quite a short time for something so complex.
I would like to encourage everything to take part in this review process, as short as it is. It’s important that we get good coverage from around the world to ensure that any use cases we missed get due consideration. Instructions for how to comment can be found here.
Akoma Ntoso is a complex standard and it has many parts. If you’re new to Akoma Ntoso, it […]
A couple weeks ago, I was in Ravenna, Italy at the LEX Summer School and follow-on Developer’s Workshop. There, the topic of a semantic web came up a lot. Despite cooling in the popular press in recent years, I’m still a big believer in the idea. The problem with the semantic web is that few people actually get it. At this point, it’s such an abstract idea that people invariably jump to the closest analog available today and mistake it for that.
Tim Berners-Lee (@timberners_lee), the inventor of the web and a big proponent of linked data, has suggested a five star deployment scheme for achieving open data — and what ultimately will be a semantic web. […]
This week I attended the 2014 LEX Summer School and the follow-on Developer’s Workshop put on by the University of Bologna in Ravenna, Italy. This is the fifth year that I have participated and the third year that we have had the developer’s extension.
It’s always interesting to me to see how the summer school has evolved from the last year and who attends. As always, the primary participation comes from Europe – as one would expect. But this year’s participants also came from as far away as the U.S., Chile, Taiwan, and Kenya. The United States had a participant from the U.S. House of Representatives this year, aside from me. In past years, we have also had U.S. participation from […]
Back in 2001 when I started in the legal informatics field, it seemed we were all alone. Certainly, we weren’t – there were many similar efforts underway around the country and around the world. But, we felt alone. All the efforts were working in isolation – making similar decisions and learning similar lessons. This was the state of the field, for the most part, for the next 6 to 8 years. Lots of isolated progress, but few opportunities to share what we had learned and build on what others knew.
In 2010, I visited the LEX Summer School, put on by the University of Bologna in Ravenna, Italy. What became apparent to me was just how […]
After the 2014 Legislative Data and Transparency conference, I came away both encouraged and a little worried. I’m encouraged by the vast amount of progress we have seen in the past year, but at the same time a little concerned by how disjointed some of the initiatives seem to be. I would rather see new mandates forcing existing systems to be rethought rather than causing additional systems to be created – which can get very costly over time. But, it’s all still the Wild Wild West of computing.
What I want to do with my blog this week is try and define what I believe transparency is all about:
- The data must be […]
Don’t forget the 2014 U.S. House Legislative Data and Transparency Conference this week.
I’m now hard at work on our second generation web-based XML editor. In my blog last week, I talked about the need for and complexities of change tracking in a legislative editor. In this blog, I want to describe more of the overall motivation.
A couple years ago, we built an HTML5-based legislative editor for Akoma Ntoso. We learned a lot from the effort and had some success with a couple customers whose needs matched the capabilities of the editor. The editor was built to use and exploit, to the fullest extent, many of the new APIs added to modern browsers to support HTML5. […]
We’re in the process of rebuilding our legislative editor – from the ground up. There are many reasons why we are doing this, which I will leave to my next blog. Today, I want to focus on the most important reason of all – change tracking.
Figure 1: The example above shows non-literal redlining and two different change contexts. An entire bill section is being added – the “action line” followed by quoted text. Rather than showing the entire text in an inserted notation, only the action line is shown. The quoted text reflects a different change context – showing changes relative to the law. In subsequent versions of this bill, the quoted text will no longer show […]
In my blog last week, I talked a little about our efforts to improve how citations are handled. This week, I want to talk about this in some more detail. I’ve been participating on a few projects to improve how citations and references to legal citations are handled.
Let’s start by looking at the need. Have you noticed how difficult it is to lookup many citations found in legislation published on the web? Quite often, there is no link associated with the citation. You’re left to do your own legwork if you want to lookup that citation – which probably means you’ll take the author’s word for it and not bother to follow the citation. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you will […]
It’s been quite some time since my last blog post – almost six months. The reason is that I’ve been very busy. We are doing a lot of exciting development within Xcential. We are developing a number of quite challenging projects around the globe.
If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember that I was working on an HTML5-based XML editor. That development was two years ago now. We’ve come a long way since then. The basic editor has been stripped down, componentized, and has being rebuilt to be a far more robust, scalable, and adaptable solution. There are more details below, which I will expand upon as the editor rolls out over the next year.
- Legal Citations
It was […]
A Legal Open Document Hackathon was held yesterday at the University of Bologna in Italy – focused on Akoma Ntoso documents. You can learn more about it here:
I wasn’t able to directly participate but I had my own mini-hackathon as well. But, rather than focusing on another boring piece of legislation that nobody wants to read, I thought I would have a little fun with it. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of The Big Bang Theory television show. You could say I have a few Sheldon-like tendencies of my own.
I’ve often thought that the complex roommate […]
We have seen the worst of our government in the past few weeks. Our politicians have seemingly forgotten that their mission is to solve problems. Instead, they’ve regressed back to settling differences through tribal conflict. Isn’t that something that we should have put behind us centuries ago?
Why is it that our politicians can never solve complex problems?
I have always been fascinated with complex problem solving. It’s why I found myself a job at the Boeing Company at the start of my career. My job was to find ways to use computer automation to help Boeing solve ever more complex problems. While at Boeing, I was introduced to the discipline of systems engineering.
In the 1940′s, with the urgency of World […]
I’m on my way to Italy this week for my annual pilgrimage to Ravenna, Italy and the LEX Summer School put on by the University of Bologna. This is my fourth trip to the class. I always find it so inspirational to be a part of the class and the activities that surround it. This year I will be talking about the many on-going projects that we have underway as well as talking, in depth, about the HTML5 editor I built for Akoma Ntoso.
Before I get to Italy, I wanted to share something I’ve been working on. It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that I’ve been working on producing a version […]
It’s been quite a while since I gave an update on our web-based XML legislative editor – LegisProweb. But that doesn’t mean that nothing has been going on. Quite the contrary, this has been a busy year for the editor project.
Let me first recap what the editor is. It’s an XML editor, written entirely around HTML5 technologies. It was first developed last year as the centerpiece to a Hackathon that Ari Hershowitz and I staged in San Francisco and around the world. While it is designed as a general purpose XML editor and can be configured to model any XML schema, it’s primarily configured to support Akoma Ntoso.
How are people doing with the Library of Congress’ Akoma Ntoso Challenge? Hopefully, you’re making good progress, having fun doing it, and in so doing, learning a valuable new skill with this important emerging technology.
I decided to make it easy for someone without an XML Editor to validate their Akoma Ntoso documents for free. We all know how expensive XML Editors tend to be. If you’re like me, you’ve used up all the free trials you could get. I’ve separated the validation part of our LegisProweb editor from the editing base to allow it to be used as a standalone validator. Now, all you need to do is either provide a […]
This week marked a big milestone for us. The U.S. House of Representatives released the U.S. Code in XML. You can see the announcement by the Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio), here. This is a big step forward towards a more transparent Congress. As many of you know, my company, Xcential, has worked closely with the Law Revision Counsel on this project. It has been an honor to provide our expertise as part of our on-going efforts with the U.S. House of Representatives.
This project has been a great opportunity for us to update the U.S. House of Representatives technology platform by introducing new XML schema techniques along with robust […]
As many of you may have already read, the U.S. Library of Congress has announced a data challenge using Akoma Ntoso. The challenge lasts for three months and offers a $5,000 prize to the winner.
In this challenge, participants are asked to mark up four Congressional bills, provided as raw text, into Akoma Ntoso.
If you have the time to participate in this challenge and can fulfill all the eligibility rules, then I encourage you to step up to the challenge. This is a good opportunity to give Akoma Ntoso a try – to both learn the new model and to help us to identify any changes or adaptations that must be made to make Akoma Ntoso suitable […]
Legislation is difficult to read and understand. So difficult that it largely goes unread. This is something I learned when I first started building bill drafting systems over a decade ago. It was quite a let down. The people you would expect to read legislation don’t actually do that. Instead they must rely on analyses, sometimes biased, performed by others that omits many of the nuances found within the legislation itself.
Much of the problem is how legislation is written. Legislation is often written so as to concisely describe a set of changes to be made to existing law. The result is a document that is written to be executed by a law compilation team deep within the government rather than […]
Last week, as I was boarding the train at Admiralty station in Hong Kong to head back to the office, I learned that I am writing a book. +Ari made the announcement on his blog. It seems that Ari has found the key to getting me to commit to something – put me in a situation where not doing it is no longer an option. Oh well…
Nonetheless, there are many good reasons why now is a good time to write a book. In the past year we have experienced a marked increase in interest in the subject of legislative data. I think that a number of factors are driving this. First, there is renewed interest in […]
It was a one day event that featured numerous speakers both within the U.S. government and in the surrounding transparency community around D.C. My role, at the end of the day, was to speak as a panelist along with Josh Tauberer of GovTrack.us and Anne Washington of The George Washington University on Under-Digitized Legislative Data. It was a fun experience for me and allowed me to have a friendly debate with Josh on API’s versus bulk downloads of XML data. In the end, while we both fundamentally […]
I find I’m often talking about an information model and XML as if they’re the same thing. However, there is no reason to tie these two things together as one. Instead, we should look at the information model in terms of the information it represents and let the manner in which we express that information be a separate concern. In the last few weeks I have found myself discussing alternative forms of representing legislative information with three people – chatting with Eric Mill at the Sunlight Foundation about HTML microformats (look for a blog from him on this topic soon), Daniel Bennett regarding microdata, and Ari Hershowitz regarding JSON.
After my last blog post I received a lot of feedback. Thanks to everyone who contacted me with questions and comments. After all the interest in the subject, I think I will devote a few more blog posts to the subject of legal references. It is quite possibly the most important subject that needs to be tackled anyway. (And yes, Harlan, I will try and blog more often.)
Many of the questions I received asked how I envision the resolver working. I thought I would dive into this aspect some more by defining the role of the resolver:
The role of a reference resolver is to receive a reference to a document or a fragment thereof and to do whatever it takes […]
This is a blog I have wanted to write for quite some time. It addresses what I believe to be the single most important issue when modeling information for legal informatics. It is also, I believe, the most urgent aspect that we need to agree upon in order to promote legal informatics as a real emerging industry. Today, most jurisdictions are simply cobbling together short term solutions without much consideration to the big picture. With something this important, we need to look at the big picture first and come up with a lasting solution.
Citations, references, or links are a very important aspect of the law. Laws are inherently a web of interconnections and interdependencies. Correctly resolving those connections allows us […]
I work with people from around the world on matters relating to legal informatics. One common issue we constantly face is the issue of terminology. We use many of the same terms, but the subtly of their definitions end up causing no end of confusion. To try and address this problem, I’ve proposed a number of times that we band together to define a common vocabulary, and when we can’t arrive at that, at least we can understand the differences that exist amongst us.
To get the ball rolling, I have started a wiki on GitHub and populated it with many of the terms I use in my various roles. Their definitions are a work-in-progress at this point. I am refining […]
I remember overhearing someone exclaim “A Bill is a Bill is a Bill” many years ago. What she meant is that a bill should be treated as a bill in the same way regardless of the system it flows through.
I’m going to borrow her exclamation to refer to something a bit different by rephrasing it slightly. Is a bill a Bill and a akn:bill? Lately I’ve been working in a number of different jurisdictions, and through my participation on OASIS and the LEX Summer School, with many other people from even more jurisdictions. It sometimes seems that everything bogs down when it comes to terminology. In the story of Babel, God is said to have divided […]
Two blogs ago I wrote about how technology waves come about, the stages they all go through, and the benefits and risks that come from when you choose or how you choose to ride a particular wave. Then, in my last blog I described what I see as the four generational waves in legislative information technology – starting with the mainframe era in the 1980s, the office productivity era of the 1990’s, the XML era of the 2000s, and the current standards wave starting in the 2010’s.
In my last blog, I wrote about how technology waves define distinct software generations and how choosing to ride the waves determines the risks – both in terms of development risk and time to obsolescence. In this blog, I’m going to explore the four generations of technology I’ve seen in the legislative information technology market.