The popular website KildareStreet.com, was effectively shut-down earlier this month by changes to data feeds on the Irish Government’s Oireachtas website. The independent website – created and run by John Handelaar – utilized public data sets to provide a convenient and searchable archive of everything said in the Dáil [Irish Parliament] since January 2004, and Seanad [Ireland's Upper House] since September 2002.
While the site was hugely popular – receiving over 570,000 unique visitors in the year to September (a third of these from Irish government addresses) – it has been unable to update its archive of data since the beginning of the new Dáil term on September 18th. The reason is down to changes in how the Houses of the Oireachtas publishes its XML feeds, and raises questions about the Government’s commitment to Open Data.
According to a statement by John Handelaar of Kildarestreet:
On September 18th, 2012, with no warning or published statement of intent, a significant change to the Houses of Oireachtas website housing the public record of Dail and Sinead debates was made, effectively killing KildareStreet.com for the foreseeable future.
It appears that such changes were made to achieve efficiencies through the removal of a layer of outsourcing. Ryan Meade’s blog on the debacle sums up the rational:
Mark Mulqueen, Head of Communications for the Oireachtas, confirmed to me on Twitter that the recent changes to the site were designed to achieve efficiencies by ending the outsourcing of “a large amount of work involved in debates. That’s where a saving arises.” I asked him if this meant that Propylon were no longer managing the debate records and he replied, “Yes, I can confirm that to be the case. Using existing resources we will provide access to debates more quickly”.
The consequences of these changes (which were implemented without prior warning), however, were to kill the data feeds that KildareStreet relied on. In order to recover from this loss of data, KildareStreet have embarked on a 2 week fundraising campaign to assist with a new edition of the website to cater for the Government’s XML design changes (and use of the proprietary and dated Lotus Notes platform).
This rebuilding effort is expected to take several weeks to design and implement.
It is worth noting, however, that the changes to the Oireachtas website do not appear to have gone without incident. Simon McGarr notes (and I can personally testify to the following):
The search doesn’t work and never did. You can’t link to any particular part of a debate. You can’t look for contributions by a particular Oireachtas member. Basically, you can’t do anything you could possibly imagine you might actually want to use a record of the Oireachtas debates for.
KildareStreet in contrast has a very intuitive user interface and allows for email alerts when various key words are spoken in parliament. It has operated since 2009 on €5,800 raised from donors and does not receive any government funding. It’s a supremely efficient and effective service and deserves public support.
To donate, goto kildarestreet.com/zombies
For more check:
- [Open Data Ireland] Google groups thread on KildareStreet
- The Oireachtas great leap backwards: it’s not just about KildareStreet.com
- Why it matters that the Oireachtas just killed KildareStreet.com
- KildareStreet.com launches fundraising bid to build new site
- Irish Parliamentary Monitoring Site Deprived of Data
- Ireland: Closing the door to Open Government?