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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Public “papers” of the President?


Now that Congress has officially changed GPO’s name from Government Printing Office to Government Publishing Office, (GPO Observes 154th Birthday With New Name, New Logo), perhaps it is time to rethink not just the name, but the function of the Public papers of the Presidents of the United States and the related publications, the Daily and Weekly Compilation of Presidential documents.

Why? Because, although digital words and words on paper will continue to have both functional and historical importance, the official historical record should also include the audio and video recordings of the President.


Case in point: last week President Obama interviewed David Simon, the creator of HBO’s The Wire. Aside from the fact that this was an interesting cultural moment, the President also discussed drug policy issues in a clear and revealing way. This is the way most people experience this kind of Presidential “document.” The experience of watching the video is different from the experience of reading the transcript. The video is on YouTube (and, apparently, not on any public government web pages. Yes, you can watch the video on a White House web page, but that page only embeds the video that actually resides on YouTube, and is subject, of course, to Google’s “privacy” policy.) As of today (March 29, 2015), the transcript of the interview is already available on the White House’s Medium site (but, again, not on a publicly accessible government web server). Presumably, the official transcript will show up soon as part of the Compilation of Presidential documents. But we should be asking, who will preserve the video? How will it be preserved for long-term, free public access? Who will protect the privacy of viewers of the video? Who will preserve digital-video format in a manner that ensures it can be watched in 5, 10, or 100 years?

But there is more. This is not just a trivial issue of the name of a publication. Rather, it is an issue of how future researchers will discover and identify the complete and official record of presidents. It is not clear that the government is actually compiling a complete record of the President, much less preserving it or ensuring that people will be able to find, identify, and use all the relevant public “documents” of the presidents. Increasingly, the official record of presidents should include an A/V record. Assuming that the bits and pieces may be preserved somewhere (by Google? by NARA in a preservation silo? in a Presidential Library someday? in an end-of-term crawl?) is not enough. We should be asking: How will the video be organized, indexed, and presented to ensure that it is easily discoverable and identifiable as part of the official record of the President?

P.S., GPO might want to fix its PURLs to the daily and weekly Compilations. It appears that the Weekly PURL (purl.access.gpo.gov/GPO/LPS1769) correctly points to http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=CPD, but the Daily PURL (purl.access.gpo.gov/GPO/LPS107897) unnecessarily points to 2010.

Supreme Court reenactments with dogs: so wrong but so right!

John Oliver is doing great — and hilarious — journalistic work. In this segment, he not only takes on the serious issue of why the Supreme Court doesn’t allow video cameras during oral arguments (Scalia’s argument against cameras is just lame excuse given the way C-SPAN currently covers Congress), but gives other news outlets the tools to cover the Supreme Court in a hilarious way that will hopefully cause the Supreme Court to change its stance on video cameras out of embarrassment.

Real Animals, Fake Paws Footage:

Gary’s Thursday Roundup: NLRB, Internet Archive, Ancestry.com, U.S. Census, and Much More (17 Items)

Hello From DC (I mean Shakeytown, it Was My First Quake) Everyone.

As we prepare for our next event around hear and elsewhere along the east coast I thought it might be a good time to share a mountain of news, new resources, and other goodies with all of you.

The material comes from posts Shirl Kennedy and I made to our INFOdocket.com site. This is just a small amount of what we post seven days a week. Plus, we also provide FullTextReports.com. New reports are listed in the left rail (Thanks Jim and James)

We both hope you find and item or two of interest in the following update. More very soon. (-:

1. Hurricane Irene: FEMA’s National Situation Daily Update Available Online & Natl. Hurricane Center Mobile Resources

2. New Web Site: Feds Launch Performance.gov, Now Publicly Accessible

3. Acquisitions: Bloomberg is Buying BNA for $990 Million

4. US Department of Labor Improves Enforcement Databases Including Visualization/Animation Tools

5.U.S. History: “Rare Footage Unearthed Online”

6. New From the Internet Archive: “Understanding 9/11: A Television News Archive”

7.“Google Forfeits $500 Million Generated by Online Ads & Prescription Drug Sales by Canadian Online Pharmacies”
The full text of the statement from the USDOJ and FDA

8. Washington Post Op/Ed: “Don’t Kill America’s Databook” (U.S. Census Statistical Abstract)

9. NLRB — Acting General Counsel Releases Report on Social Media Cases

10. Back to School 2011-2012: Facts About Schools, Students and Teachers From the U.S. Census

11. 1940 U.S. Census to be Free on Ancestry.com

12. Government Information: GPO Releases API For FederalRegister.gov (Formal Announcement)

13. Teen Dating Violence: A Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography
From the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress

14. Update: More Digitized Historic U.S. Government Economic and Banking Documents and Reports via FRASER

15. A Look at a Few Resources Using U.S. Department of Agriculture Open Data

16. Cook County, IL: New online database lets anyone see who has outstanding warrants

17. Federal Agencies Take Action to Digitally Document Nearly 50 Endangered Languages

A quick look at the bigger picture

For those of us who spend our lunchtimes wandering around the internet, TED Talks are an excellent and often-inspiring diversion. In a February 2010 talk, David Cameron discussed the relationship between politics and behavioral economics, arguing that the technology-driven empowerment of citizens ultimately increases their well-being.

Whether or not you agree with Cameron’s political perspective, and whether or not you agree with his assessment of human nature, his description of the relationship between “people power,” and transparency, choice, and accountability is an interesting one. He points to the Missouri Accountability Portal as an excellent example of public access to technology resulting in public empowerment.

Incidentally, Cameron promised a site that would track all government spending over £25,000, and all government contracts. Public spending data is now available in the Combined Online Information System (COINS) database. The UK government portal, direct.gov.uk, links to some guidance on using COINS, which indicates that the pledge about publicizing spending should be fulfilled by November 2010. It also indicates that user-friendly access options for some data subsets will be in place by August 2010.

You can watch the video here, or view the video with subtitles and an interactive transcript on the TED Talks site.

Need for Open Standards Video on the Web

An article in Technology Review reports on the current state of video on the web, its drawbacks and limitations, and what the future may bring.

  • OurTube, By David Talbot, Technology Review (September/October 2009). (3400 words)

The article summarizes the story of Michael Dale and Abram Stern who wanted to use speeches in the U.S. Congress and discovered that they could not get the videos. “There was no online repository for download.” Their efforts led to the development of http://metavid.org/ which offered legislative videos for free download, a copyright battle with C-SPAN, and a change in C-SPAN policy to make some of its videos freely available for some uses. (See also Who Owns What C-Span Airs?, and C-SPAN provides more access, but wants to retain control, etc..)

Dale and Stern’s difficulties offer one small glimpse into a larger problem with online video: unlike much of the rest of the Web, it is accessed through a collection of closed, proprietary formats, such as Adobe’s Flash and Microsoft’s Silverlight. (Try a video search engine such as Blinkx; you’ll get plenty of videos pulled from around the Web, but to watch them you may need to download or update software.) Certain websites, led by YouTube, convert uploaded content to Flash for ease of viewing. Today, however, a growing number of technologists and video artists want to see Web video adopt the kind of open standards that fueled the growth of the Web at large. HTML, the markup language that describes Web pages; JavaScript, the programming language that allows forms, graphics, and various special effects to be added to them; JPEG, the standard for images–all these building blocks of the Web can be used by anyone, without paying fees or asking permission. This openness was indispensable to the creation and then the explosion of blogs, search engines, social networks, and more.

Talbot quotes Chris Blizzard, director of technical evangelism at Mozilla, as he explains why open standards are so important:

Open standards create low friction. Low friction creates innovation. Innovation makes people want to pick it up and use it. But it’s not something where we can guess what ‘it’ is. We just create the environment that lets ‘it’ emerge.

Too much government information (not just video) suffers from being locked in to proprietary formats and proprietary means of delivering that information. (See: What is wrong with this picture? and lots more at the open formats tag here at FGI.)

Blizzard says that we need to take “video out of the plug-in prison.” Talbot says, “The goal isn’t to make any one application possible but to bring about the next Internet revolution–one whose specific form is hard to foresee, except that it’s likely to be televised.”