July 18, 2012

Are We Preserving or Obscuring General Convention Legislative History?

As readers know, I have been writing extensively about the General Convention resolutions concerning the Anglican Covenant. I have been frustrated by the way information about the General Convention has been handled on the official Web site, however. I mention this now because, although problems have been apparent for a long time, they are particularly irksome now, when I am writing what is likely my final essay on the matter. (This isn’t it.)

To begin with, the URL for the 2012 General Convention home page is http://www.generalconvention.org/, which is, to someone who values stability, continuity, and consistency on the World Wide Web, an obvious but thoughtless choice. The URL is easy to remember, but what will be used in 2015 or 2018? Will the same URL be reused and the 2012 material simply be consigned to oblivion? Or will a new site be created, giving the impression that the 2012 General Convention is somehow the archetypal General Convention Web site?

The URL for the 2009 General Convention was http://gc2009.org/, so one could argue that the URL for this year’s gathering should have been http://gc2012.org/. This URL format has its problems, though, which apparently explains something about what happened this year.

Note that gc2009.org and gc2012.org are distinct domains that must be registered separately. The latter was registered by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society on June 30, 2003, well in advance of when it was needed. The domain gc2012.org, on the other hand, was registered on August 13, 2006. The registrant, curiously, is the Center Avenue Methodist Church of Pitcairn, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, but the associated telephone number is one in the Nashville area and belongs to someone associated with the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. The 2012 General Conference was held April 24–May 4, 2012. Apparently, gc2012.org was registered in anticipation of its use for the General Conference, but General Conference material was incorporated into the United Methodist Church Web site instead. In any case, Episcopal Church and United Methodist Church IT people apparently don’t talk to one another!

The domain generalconvention.org was registered by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society on October 5, 2009. There is no reason this single domain could not have been used in a systematic way to handle multiple conventions. For example, the 2012 convention could have had either an http://2012.generalconvention.org/ or an http://generalconvention.org/2012/ URL, the latter being preferable, since a “www.” subdomain could be prefaced or not. For subsequent conventions, “2012” could be replaced by “2015,” “2018,” and so forth.

Eventually, much of the information about General Conventions that is now on the Web will find its way to the site of The Archives of the Episcopal Church, though it is not clear that all of it will. Preserving the site created for each specific convention at its original location not only preserves information that may not go into the Archives but also preserves the validity of links created elsewhere on the Web—on this blog, for example—so that neither the creator of content with such links nor the reader of that content need worry about tracking down information on pages that have disappeared.

All this is preface to my more serious complaint, which I will describe as it has affected my own writing. Others faced the same problem. Whereas in 2009, both the original version and current version of a resolution was available on-line (see here), in 2012, only one version was maintained. This meant that, if I linked to the resolution on the General Convention Web site before this year’s convention began, the reader would see the resolution as submitted. During the convention, however, he might see a marked-up version with insertions and strikethroughs. Some time later, the same link would point to the final version of the resolution without regard to its original text. This is maddening and unhelpful in so many ways.

Because of the way resolutions were presented on the Web site, I made sure that I copied original resolutions just in case they were handled in the Alice-in-Wonderland manner I feared they would be. This allowed me to link to my own private copies if that became necessary. During the convention, I was often pressed for time, and skipped making my own snapshots of works-in-progress and linking to them. I have just finished going through all my posts that involve Anglican Covenant resolutions and re-linking to my copies of the resolutions at their proper point of development. Please let me know if I got anything wrong. (Almost by accident, I had accumulated all the relevant files.)

In 2009, resolutions were provided in HTML format, which was less attractive and less convenient for printing than the PDF format used this year. We can hope that the best practices of 2009 and 2012 will be implemented in 2015 and all original resolutions will remain available.

There is no way that the General Convention Web site can reflect the up-to-the-minute status of every resolution. Those who need to know as much as ever gets recorded about a resolution, however, should be aware of what is in the Archive. For example, click here to see the complete legislative history of Resolution C056 of 2009,“Develop Liturgies for Blessings Unions and Provide Generous Pastoral Response.” It’s almost like being there.

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