Tag Archives: web

United Kingdom parliamentary URL structure: change needed

In Wikidata, Wikipedia’s sister project for storing statements of fact as , we record a number of unique identifiers.

For example, Tim Berners-Lee has the identifier “85312226” and is known to the as “nm3805083”.

We know that we can convert these to URLs by adding a prefix, so

by adding the prefixes:

  • https://viaf.org/viaf/
  • http://www.imdb.com/Name?

respectively. We only need to store those prefixes in Wikidata once each.


HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT DSC 7057 pano 2

The in August 2014,
picture by Henry Kellner, CC BY-SA 3.0

The United Kingdom Parliament website also uses identifiers for MPs and members of the House of Lords.

For example, Tom Watson, an MP, is “1463”, and Jim Knight, aka The Lord Knight of Weymouth, is “4160”.

However, the respective URLs are:

meaning that the prefixes are not consistent, and require you to know the name or exact title.

Yet more ridiculous is that, if Tom Watson ever gets appointed to the House of Lords, even though his unique ID won’t change, the URL required to find his biography on the parliamentary website will change — and, because we don’t know whether he would be, say Lord Watson of Sandwell Valley, or Lord Watson of West Bromwich, we can’t predict what it will be.

When building databases, like Wikidata, this is all extremely unhelpful.

What we would like the parliamentary authorities to do — and what would benefit others wanting to make use of parliamentary URLs — is to use a standard, predictable type of URL, for example http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/1463 which uses the unique identifier, but does not require the individual’s house, name or title, and does not change if they shift to “the other place”.

If necessary they could then make that redirect to the longer URLs they prefer (though I wouldn’t recommend it).

I’ve asked them; but they don’t currently do this. In fact they explained their preference for the longer URLs thus:

…we are unable [sic] to shorten the url any further as the purpose of the current pattern of the web address is to display a pathway to the page.

The url also identifies the page i.e the indication of biographies including the name of the respective Member as to make it informative for online users who may view the page.

I find these arguments unconvincing, to say the least.


Screenshot, with Watson's name in the largest font on the page

There’s a big enough clue on the page, without needing to read the URL to identify its subject

Furthermore, the most verbose parts of the URLs are non-functioning; if we truncate Tom’s URL by simply dropping the final digit: http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/tom-watson/146, then we get the biography of a different MP. On the other hand, if we change it to, say: http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/t/1463, we still get Tom’s page. Try them for yourself.

So, how can we help the people running the Parliamentary website to change their minds, and to use a more helpful URL structure? Who do we need to persuade?

Idea: A tool to make it easy to subscribe to web-based lists of Twitter accounts

Here’s an idea: a tool (which could be web based, or a browser plug in, or a mobile app; or a feature added to existing Twitter clients such as TweetDeck), which would take the URL of a page with a list of links to people’s Twitter profiles, like the one at http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/twitter, which I set up and maintained in a previous career,

Part of Birmingham City Council's list of Twitter accounts, showing those of parks' rangers

and either subscribe the operator to them all, or do that and then create a Twitter list containing them all.

Optionally, it could first present a checklist, from which individual accounts could be selected, or removed.

Would someone like to make this happen?

Politician pin ups – open-licensed pictures, please

Politicians, like visits to the dentist and taxes, are a necessary evil. We all moan about them, but someone has to take care of the machinery of state.

So it’s important that we hold them to account, and elsewhere document their activities in a neutral way. Hyperlocal bloggers do the former, and the latter takes place on Wikipedia, and on sites like the excellent OpenlyLocal (both of whose content is open-licensed).

To illustrate such articles, bloggers and Wikipedians need photographs of the politicians (and senior officers). While it’s possible for individuals to take such pictures (and even open-license them, as I described previously), it would be better if such pictures were available from official channels. Such organisations already take or commission professional quality shots and make them available to the press. If they don’t already, they should make sure that their contract with photographers pays for full rights, enabling open-licensing.

I recently asked Birmingham City Council’s press office to make their pictures of members of BCC’s cabinet available under an open licence, and, to their credit, they did so. I was then able to use one of them on :

Wikipedia article using a picture open-licensed by Birmingham City Council

Some might ask “but what if the pictures are misused, to misrepresent those people”. Well, if someone’s going to do that, then they won’t bother about copyright anyway, and other laws (libel, human rights) already enable redress.

So come on all you councils, civil service departments, police forces/ authorities and so on — let us have pictures of your elected members and senior officers, free (i.e. with no “non-commercial” or “no derivatives” restrictions) for reuse on our blogs, Wikipedia and other sites. Major companies, too, could do this for their most-public board members.

Then there’s all public bodies’ other photographs. After all, West Midlands Police kindly agreed to my request to open-license the fantastic aerial shots from their helicopter…

St. Martin in the Bullring Church, Birmingham
Birmingham’s Bull Ring, from the West Midlands Police helicopter. Although this picture is ©WM Police, I can use it, here and on Wikipedia, because they kindly make it available under a CC-BY-SA licence

Open-licensing your images. What it means and how to do it.

I do a lot of editing on Wikipedia. Sometimes I approach someone connected with a subject I’m writing about (or the subject themself), and ask them to provide an “open licensed” image. In other words, an image whose copyright they own, but given a licence which allows anyone to reuse it, even for commercial purposes.

Noted art historian and television presenter Philip Mould kindly agreed to my request, and released this portrait of himself under a CC-BY-SA licence so I could use it on Wikipedia

With a few exceptions, only images made available under such licences can be used on Wikipedia.

Creative Commons

The commonest form of open licence is Creative Commons — a set of legalistic prose documents which cover various ways of licensing images.

Some Creative Commons include “non-commercial” clauses; these are incompatible with Wikipedia, because people are allowed to reuse content from Wikipedia in commercial situation, such as in newspapers or in apps which are sold for use on mobile devices (provided they comply with other licence terms).

The Creative Commons licences compatible with Wikipedia are:

  • Attribution Creative Commons (CC-BY)
  • Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA)

In which:

  • “Attribution” means that the copyright holder must be given a credit
  • “ShareAlike” means that if someone uses your picture, anything made with it must have the same licence
  • “NoDerivs” means that people cannot crop, recolour or otherwise change your picture when reusing it.

I took this image of John Madin, architect of Birmingham’s Rotunda and Central Library, and made it available under a CC-By-SA licence. You can use it, free, provided you credit me as the photographer

It’s important that anyone open licencing an image understands what that means. For example, Wikimedia (the organisation behind Wikipedia) suggests that people donating images are asked to agree to the following:

  • I acknowledge that I grant anyone the right to use the work in a commercial product, and to modify it according to their needs, as long as they abide by the terms of the license and any other applicable laws.
  • I am aware that I always retain copyright of my work, and retain the right to be attributed in accordance with the license chosen. Modifications others make to the work will not be claimed to have been made by me.
  • I am aware that the free license only concerns copyright, and I reserve the option to take action against anyone who uses this work in a libelous way, or in violation of personality rights, trademark restrictions, etc.
  • I acknowledge that I cannot withdraw this agreement…

(and yes, that wording has a CC-BY-SA licence!)

Which is the best licence to use?

That depends on the circumstances, but CC-BY-SA fits most cases, giving the re-user the greatest flexibility, while protecting the copyright holder’s right to be recognised.

So, how do I open-licence an image?

There are a variety of ways to open-licence an image. Here are some of the commonest:

  • Upload your images to Wikimedia Commons, the media repository for Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects
  • Upload your images to Flickr, specifying one of the above open licences
  • Upload your images to your own website, with a clear and unambiguous statement that they are under a specified open licence

My images are on Flickr, how do I change the licence?

To open-licence a single image in Flickr:

Selecting an open licence in Flickr's pop-up dialogue

  • View the specific image
  • Under “Owner settings”, alongside current licence setting (perhaps “All Rights Reserved”), click “edit”
  • In the pop-up window, check one of the compatible licences
  • Save

[Postscript: My friend John Cummings wrote an equivalent guide for YouTube]

Won’t I lose money doing this?

the ingliston gorilla

kindly made this picture of Nicholas Monro’s statue of King Kong available under a CC-BY-SA licence, at my request, so I could use it on Wikipedia

Not necessarily. Some commercial photographers release low- or medium- resolution copies of their images, and sell high-resolution copies, but most people take images for personal purposes, which have no commercial value, and for which they will never be paid. Open-licensing them enables the community to benefit, at no cost to the photographer. Think of open-licensing your images as a way of giving back to the community which has given you so many open-source tools, without which the web would not work.

If this post has inspired you to openly-licence your images please let me know, in the comments.

And yes you can use other people’s open-licenced images, including many of mine, free. Help yourself!

Caveat

Yes, I know there are other open licences, and more complex use-cases. This is intended as a beginners’ guide. A competent lawyer will be able to provide you with legal advice. I offer more general advice to institutions wanting to open-licence their images or other content, or to work with the Wikipedia community, as part of my professional services.

Licence

This post is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (3.0 Unported) licence. Attribution should include a link to the post, or, in print, the short URL http://wp.me/p10xWg-jM.

The Highway Code should be available as a set of linkable HTML documents, not just PDFs

The Highway Code is:

the official road user guide for Great Britain ()

Drivers must study it in order to pass a driving test, and all road users should remain familiar with it — including any revisions — throughout their lives.

It’s available online, but large parts only as a series of large PDF files. That means that when, for example, my friend Pete Ashton asks:

It’s still illegal to park on double yellow lines, right? on Twitter

I can’t easily answer him by linking directly to the section of the Road Markings PDF which says:

Double yellow lines mean no waiting at any time, unless there are signs that specifically indicate seasonal restrictions.

I would like the Highway Code to be fully available as a series of plain old semantic HTML web pages, with each section within each page having a unique ID (which even the parts already in HTML currently lack), so that I can link to the relevant, specific, section when I want to refer to it. For example, the section quoted above might be at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Highwaycode/markings#double-yellow

Dear Government, Can you do that, please?

Update: I’ve asked my MP, Khalid Mahmood, to do what he can to assist with this request. I’ll let you know what happens.

When writing about the web, links are required

Today’s Telegraph has an interesting article about MPs (and their agents) allegedly bowdlerising articles about themselves on Wikipedia.

What it doesn’t have, though, are links to any of the articles, let alone to the edits under discussion (such as this edit).

The Telegraph needs to understand that the word “Web” in World Wide Web refers to the interlinking of articles on different sites.

Adding links to the articles and edits discussed would serve at least two purposes. It would provide evidence to support the allegations the paper is making; and it would be a convenience and a courtesy their readers.

25 things about Andy Mabbett

I’ve been wondering whether anyone would tag me to give “Seven Things you Never Knew About Me”, and how on Earth I would come up with that many. My friend and colleague Emma Routh tagged me on Facebook in a similar exercise, but requesting twenty-five factoids!

For the benefit of those of you not on Facebook (where I’ve already tagged another 25 victims), here they are:

  1. I come from a long line of horsemen (following the paternal line). My grandfather was a cavalryman in India in the 1920s, then delivered bread from a horse-drawn cart. His father was a carriage driver for a wealthy Birmingham family, before that, my ancestors were stablemen for a Duke; and were from Fairford in Gloucestershire. I’ve contacted someone called Mabbett whose family has been in New Zealand for generations, but also harks from Fairford.
  2. I love flying and watching or reading anything to do with aeroplanes. I had an hour piloting a helicopter as a 30th birthday present, I’ve been up in a microlight, and I sweet-talked my way onto the cockpit of a commercial airliner for the landing at Birmingham International Airport on the return leg of my first flight (to Amsterdam) in 1989; yet I haven’t flown since a business trip to Dublin in 1996.
  3. I’m a pacifist.
  4. My spelling is appalling. I particularly have trouble using double letters when I should not, and vice versa. This is, apparently, typical of people of my generation, who were taught to read using the “” (ITA) system, which had no double letters. Nonetheless, I’ve always been a good and voracious reader (my reading age was over 16 when I was 9), and could read “proper” English while still being taught ITA. Forbidden, as a child, to read at the meal table, my mother says I would read sauce-bottle labels.
  5. I am a published writer: I have written two books on Pink Floyd ( an update of a previous work by ; all my own work), contributed to another, and written articles on the same subject for Q and Mojo, among others. When Pink Floyd were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Seattle, I wrote the programme notes. I was subsequently invited to the induction ceremony in New York, but couldn’t go as I was in the middle of buying my house. My second book is a set text on a university course in the USA.
  6. My hair used to be waist-length. Female friends were aghast when I cut it. I sold it to a wig-maker.
  7. I used to be a professional computer programmer, in COBOL and suchlike, for Cadburys. There was a time when every bar of chocolate which left their factory at Bournville had been counted by a stock control programme which I wrote. I haven’t coded for many years, though. I’d like to learn to programme again, for the web, perhaps using PHP.
  8. My books came about because, for ten years, I published and edited, with friends, a fanzine about Pink Floyd, ““. It was read in every continent except Antarctica (I really must get around or sending a copy to our research station there) and even smuggled behind the iron curtain. We had a subscriber in Kuwait, but sadly I never heard from him after the Iraqi invasion.
  9. I hold a certificate in counselling skills. I was encouraged to take my training further, but a job change took my career away from working with unemployed adults and towards on-line work. And how does that make you feel?
  10. I absolutely love dogs, but my domestic situation means I can’t keep one. My friends laugh at how often I stop to pat dogs in the street.
  11. Through my writing, I’ve met many famous people, and become an unashamed name-dropper. JohnRabbitBundrick, the Texan keyboard player with Free and The Who, once cooked me chilli and cornbread. James Galway and the London Symphony Orchestra played just for me (but he still owes me £15). The picture researcher on my first book was Mary McCartney, daughter of Paul. Bob Geldof once called me a cynic.
  12. I am a certified first-aider, and once saved a man’s life with CPR.
  13. I’ve always done voluntary work. I now do so for the RSPB, such as entertaining children at events (I’m very skilled at making dragonflies from pipe cleaners), and as a trustee of the West Midland Bird Club, for whom I am also webmaster and chairman. In my schooldays, I did conservation work at Moseley Bog Nature Reserve. Later, I was a volunteer for the Birmingham Railway Museum, doing almost everything from engine cleaning to shop sales, and from manning a level crossing to booking guest speakers. I also acted as steward on mainline steam trains, looking after the passengers as we went all over the country. The only place I never worked was on the footplate.
  14. I only passed my driving test at the third attempt, and have since been involved in four collisions requiring insurance claims. Only one, the most minor, was my fault.
  15. I’ve been managing websites since 1994 — the year Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented them founded the W3C (he invented the web in 1991, of course). I’ve been using on-line fora for work and socialising since 1995 since October 1994.
  16. I’ve been stalked online for years. If you search the Usenet archives, you will find fake accounts (including someone pretending to be me) announcing that I’m both a convicted “cottager” and a child abuser (I have a police safety-check certificate which says otherwise), have been sacked by the people who still employ me, and more.
  17. I collect things. If I had unlimited space, I’d collect everything, but I really have to stop myself, and limit my collecting to books, original artwork showing birds, fossils, and old artefacts related to Birmingham, such as bottles and badges and beermats and coins and 78-record sleeves and… Oh dear.
  18. I’m a grammar pedant: I say “fora” not “forums”, and detest the use of “bored of”. I love copy-editing and proof-reading, too.
  19. I had the job of demonstrating the World Wide Web to Michael (now Sir Michael) Lyons; the first time he saw it. He’s now head of the BBC Trust, and ultimately responsible for bbc.co.uk, ““.
  20. The Guardian‘s Ben Goldacre once referred to me as “the ever-vigilant Andy Mabbett“.
  21. I own an original drawing by Bill Oddie, from one of his books, “Birdwatching with Bill Oddie”. It cost just a couple of pounds on e-Bay, in a job lot with a signed photo of Liberace.
  22. I love old street furniture, especially the old cast-iron stuff we have inherited from the Victorian era. One of my achievements was to save the street-urinal from where Birmingham‘s International Convention Centre now stands, for Birmingham Railway Museum (though I don’t think they’ve yet re-erected it).
  23. I hate bananas. I really wish I didn’t as I know they’d be good for me, and are handy to carry when out in the countryside, but I can’t stand the taste or texture. Even the smell makes me feel nauseous. I love almost all other fruits and, as a child, would usually prefer fruit to sweets.
  24. If I go near fresh paint, I can still smell it for a week or more afterwards.
  25. The Duke of Edinburgh once trod on my cousin’s toe.

hAccessibility – Unhappy First Birthday

It’s one year today since Bruce Lawson and James Craig published “hAccessibility“, about the misuse of the ‘abbr’ element in microformats (an issue I first raised on 20 September 2006 in Accessify Forums).

As recent events show, the microformats cabal still has its collective head up its own^W^W^W in the sand.

Despite suggestions for a workaround, a solution seems no nearer, thanks to their apparent indifference. Shame on them.