Deficient IT for COIAO

First published: 06th July 2009

The reports published on the COIAO website, are not searchable or indexable, and their production demonstrate a serious lack of IT knowledge in the COIAO. They are a waste of time a resources and less accessible than they could be.

On the website, the report is split into 42 volumes, each of about 220 pages. Twenty-one volumes cover the electronic submissions: email and electronic forum. It is apparent that, for each message or forum post, COIAO staff printed out the submission, blanked personal details, and then fed the paper into a scanner to create a series of page images that form the documents published. Why didn't they combine the submissions into a single document, without going through a time-consuming paper stage?

The major problem is that they have created computer documents that cannot be searched for text (English or Chinese). This makes it more difficult for people to study the submissions, and find particular sections easily. It makes it impossible for blind people to access the submissions - if they had been retained in their original electronic form, blind people could have utilised screen reader software to listen to the text.

More minor disadvantages include that the links that many submissions included cannot now be accessed by a click, they must be labouriously re-typed. The files are also larger: the image of a character is larger than the code for the same character. The printing process has also introduced display errors in some areas, such as the printing of HTML comments, or non-conversion of Unicode codes to Chinese characters, that could have been located and corrected much more easily if the submissions were still in their original electronic form. The quality has also suffered, many of the pages were slanted as they passed through the scanner.

Overall, the COIAO achieved a sub-standard result at the expenditure of extra resources, can they explain why they chose this route?

Can they also explain how they hope to produce effective and realistic legislation for the internet age when they clearly do not understand the medium?

Updated: 23rd July 2009

I sent the above letter to the SCMP, and also to the webmaster of the COIAO, the webmaster replied, and the reply and my response to the reply is included below:

Dear Webmaster

Thank you for your response, it clearly reveals that you still don't get the 
point...

On 23 Jul 2009 at 10:10, info@coiao.gov.hk wrote:

> Dear Mr. Dyer,
>
> Thank you for your email dated 9 July.  Below is our response to your 
> comment on the reports published on our COIAO website.
>
>> The reports published on the COIAO website, 
>> http://www.coiao.gov.hk/en/reports.htm, are not searchable or indexable, and 
>> their production demonstrate a serious lack of IT knowledge in the COIAO. They 
>> are a waste of time a resources and less accessible than they could be.
>
> 1.   It is correct that text in PDF format on the website cannot be 
> searched.  PDF format has to be used because it is the only available 
> type of format for publishing submissions by post and fax.  Besides, 
> there were a substantial number of electronic submissions carrying 
> attachments originally in PDF or word format.  Yet PDF format does not 
> reduce the accessibility.  Users are able to read all the submissions 
> online.
i) The text in your PDF's could be searched, if it were text, (see 
http://www.yuikee.com.hk/info-ctr/newsletter/ykcl-news09-06.pdf as an example) 
you've included pictures of the text.

ii) It is entirely possible to include a PDF or Word document (or multiple 
documents) in a PDF, or to copy required sections into a new PDF.

iii) It is incorrect to say that your format of pictures of text in a PDF does 
not reduce accessibility - please explain how you expect blind people to access 
your pictures.

>> On the website, the report is split into 42 volumes, each of about 220 pages. 
>> Twenty-one volumes cover the electronic submissions: email and electronic 
>> forum. It is apparent that, for each message or forum post, COIAO staff printed 
>> out the submission, blanked personal details, and then fed the paper into a 
>> scanner to create a series of page images that form the documents published. 
>> Why didn't they combine the submissions into a single document, without going 
>> through a time-consuming paper stage?
> 2.   With the large number of submissions received, we consider it 
> better that they be separated into smaller volumes.  One single 
> document containing all would be too large (and impossible) for users 
> to download.  The paper stage is necessary to allow us to remove the 
> personal particulars.
Instead of saying "a single document", I should have said "a reduced number of 
documents".

If you think it is necessary to go through a paper stage to remove personal 
particulars, then you have no idea how to use a computer.

>> The major problem is that they have created computer documents that cannot be 
>> searched for text (English or Chinese). This makes it more difficult for people 
>> to study the submissions, and find particular sections easily. It makes it 
>> impossible for blind people to access the submissions - if they had been 
>> retained in their original electronic form, blind people could have utilised 
>> screen reader software to listen to the text.
> 3.   Same as (1) above.
This really does not explain how you expect blind people to study the 
submissions, or anyone to search them.

>> More minor disadvantages include that the links that many submissions included 
>> cannot now be accessed by a click, they must be labouriously re- typed. The 
>> files are also larger: the image of a character is larger than the code for the 
>> same character. The printing process has also introduced display errors in some 
>> areas, such as the printing of HTML comments, or non-conversion of Unicode 
>> codes to Chinese characters, that could have been located and corrected much 
>> more easily if the submissions were still in their original electronic form. 
>> The quality has also suffered, many of the pages were slanted as they passed 
>> through the scanner.
> 4.   Same as (1) above.  We have tried to convert the types in various 
> types of code.  Some pages were already slanted before scanning, and 
> the scanner we used was not specialized for the purpose of scanning in 
> bulk quantity.  The outcome, therefore, may not be of the best 
> quality.  Yet all the public opinions on the Review of the COIAO were 
> scanned in its entirety. 
You do not address the points I raised. A competent user of IT could have 
produced a better quality result with less effort.

As a single example, you admit to using equipment not suited to the purpose 
("the scanner we used was not specialized for the purpose of scanning in bulk 
quantity"), and therefore obtaining an inferior result. This could have been 
avoided by processing electronically those submissions received electronically, 
without a paper stage.

> Thank you for your support and concern about the review of the COIAO.
I am still concerned that, if you have no idea how to use IT effectively, how 
can you conduct a review concerning the internet. Would you ask a person who 
can't read to compile views on library organisation?

> Best regards,
> Webmaster, COIAO website
Regards
Allan Dyer

Updated: 26th July 2011

The Letters Editor asked me to summarise the Government Department's reply and my response to it, this was published on 26th July 2009:

COIAO Review Doesn´t Get IT

When it was announced that the submissions from the first round of consultations on the COIAO Review had been published, I visited the COIAO website. I found that the email submissions had been printed on paper then scanned as images, packed into a series of 200-page PDF files. I emailed the COIAO website, detailing some of the problems that type of publication causes - in short, the documents are inaccessible to blind people, and cannot be automatically indexed or searched.

In their response, the COIAO website stood by their actions, but failed to explain why they had chosen to convert documents from a form where blind people could access them into a form where they cannot, and displayed a worrying lack of understanding of IT, for example, falsely stating, "The paper stage is necessary to allow us to remove the personal particulars". They were apparently unaware that, using the tools they had available, they could have produced a better quality result with less effort.

An important objective of the COIAO Review is to update the law to address the internet and information technology. How can our lawmakers pass reasonable, enforceable laws when the reports they receive have been summarised and filtered by officials that are ignorant of the technology they are fumbling with? Would you ask a person who can't read to compile views on library organisation?


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