Legislative Assembly Hansard as HTML

I was surfing through the Wayback Machine this afternoon and came across the earliest digital manifestations of Prince Edward Island’s Hansard from April 1996, 20 years ago.

What I’d forgotten is that when we created the system to post Hansard online, PDF as a format for distributing documents was not widely adopted (it was only 3 years old at the time). Although it would likely have been possible to read a PDF version of Hansard at the time, the creating of it would have been locked up inside expensive, proprietary software that wouldn’t have connected to the word processing system of the day used to create it, at least not without great expense.

We were a hearty, lean band of web-makers. And so we used HTML.

If memory serves this worked through some sort of automated Perl script that sucked in the word processor file and output HTML. I wish we’d been better at archiving things.

The benefits of this approach were manifest: not only could one read Hansard in any old web browser, but because we were able to structure the data and produce works of beauty like this page indexing a day’s sitting by MLA speaking.

So you can, for example, see all the things that Alan Buchanan said on April 17, 1996, and then jump directly to each one. Like this, where he answered a question on the introduction of the 911 system to the province (“we hope to begin work on the development of the system and have it completed within the year”).

The PDF version is all that the contemporary Legislative Assembly produces; understandable for workflow reasons, perhaps, but a shame that we had, at the very dawn of the web, a more open, “web-like” solution to spreading Hansard far and wider.