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Ken North

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Legislation, Tracking Applications and XML Plumbing

January 25, 2011

The eXtensible Markup Language (XML), and databases that store XML, play a significant role in systems for authoring and tracking legislation. XML provides plumbing and XML servers provide an enabling technology for applications that lawmaking bodies use - and for web sites that report on lawmakers and legislation.It's been 13 years since XML 1.0 arrived on the scene and caused us to take a closer look at storing and querying unstructured information. Jonathan Robie, Daniela Florescu and Don Chamberlin (co-inventor of SQL) developed the Quilt query language that soon became the departure point for the W3C XML Query Language Working Group to create XQuery 1.0.

After release of the XML 1.0 specification, there was a wave of XML adoption for data interchange, data integration and messaging. Also after the W3C published XML 1.0, there was a surge of interest in a new class of data stores commonly referred to as 'XML servers' and 'native XML databases' that stored an XML document as a unit.

Amongst the software products that can store XML and query it via XQuery is the MarkLogic Server, which is now in release 4.2. MarkLogic has been on my radar for years because the company's Principal Technologist, Jason Hunter, was a popular speaker at a series of conferences I chaired. I've watched the company emerge as a leader in a space that was populated by dozens of open source and commercial XML data stores, and eventually XQuery engines.

Among the companies that have successfully ridden the XML wave are those building legislative applications. One such company, Propylon, created one of the first XML-based legislative systems for the Irish Parliament. Propylon CTO Sean McGrath was an invited expert of the W3C group that defined the XML specification. Propylon has adopted Legislative Open Document Format (LODF) that applies domain-specific document semantics atop the Open Document Format XML standard (ISO/IEC 26300:2006).

Another important player in the legislative space is CQ Roll Call, a news organization that has built several applications using the MarkLogic Server. CQ Roll Call is an Economist Group news organization that produces several publications, including Roll Call, Congressional Quarterly and Congress.org. It provides facts and analysis about elections and the legislative process, with about 180 staff members covering the US Congress.

The first Roll Call application that used MarkLogic Server was an integration of the Public Laws database and U.S. Code with the ability to track pending legislation. The second application built on MarkLogic provides closed captioned video from the House and Senate floor.

An application rolled out this month enables users to go to the CQ Roll Call website for a variety of unstructured information, including hearing transcripts and videos of Congress in action. This new application supports more than 30 different sources of unstructured information. Besides enabling users to read a daily briefing, news and analysis, it also tracks legislation and the voting record of members of Congress. The web site also offers Knowlegis, an interesting advocacy tool for tracking interactions with Congress.

Knowlegis advocacy tool screen shot

A decade before 'Big Data' and 'NoSQL' entered the lexicon of the software community, there were developers attacking the problem of storing and serving up massive collections of documents and other unstructured information.After the W3C published XML 1.0, there was a surge of interest in a new class of data stores commonly referred to as 'XML servers' and 'native XML databases' that stored an XML document as a unit.

Amongst the software products that can store XML and query it via XQuery is the MarkLogic Server, which is now in release 4.2.

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