The UN Official Document System went online publically recently. Here are my initial reactions to the new public interface.
Back in the mid-1990s, when the web was in its infancy, I was working with WFM to try and get “publically released” UN documents out on the internet. UN officials were stubbornly resistant to the idea, citing various legal, financial and logistical reasons for why this was impossible. One official warned us that it would lead to widespread counterfeiting of UN documents, since anyone could take a UN document distributed in MS Word and change the text and re-send it out to the world. Another thought it would cut into the UN’s publication sales department, one of the UN’s few independent sources of funding.
We found various “creative” solutions to get around their resistance, from re-typing the documents and posting them to discussion boards and gopher, then later scanning, and getting unofficial copies on disk from friendly UN staffers.
Ten years later, the UN has finally seen the wisdom of making their “public” documents actually publically available on the Internet via their “Official Document System.” The ODS is:
a system for storing and retrieving United Nations documents that allows users to search for and retrieve documents via high-speed networks and the Internet, and permits high-speed transmission of documents through telecommunications links. They include pre-session, in-session and post-session documentation for meetings of the General Assembly and its subsidiary bodies, the Security Council and its subsidiary bodies, the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary bodies and the Trusteeship Council, and for global conferences convened by the United Nations as well as for other meetings included in the Calendar of Conferences and Meetings authorized by the General Assembly. The documents and official records are stored in the official languages of the United Nations: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
It is an incredibly useful resource for civil society groups to use in their public education, advocacy and analysis.