A week or so ago I posted a message about using XML collaboratively to
assist in resource discovery, specifically with relevance to this list,
I've linked up with Martin Schranz of http://www.mcqs.com/ to develop a
proof of concept technology demonstrator.
This technology demonstrator is actually a search engine that asynchronously
searches multiple databases (two in this case, MedWeb and mcqs.com) and
collates search results. The system doesn't care what database you use, your
server platform or any other related constraint. Instructions for how you
can plug your databases into this are given on the site.
The system uses XML RSS to collate search results (lists of MCQs) in
response to a user's query. The results page is therefore a composite of
search results from different servers. I think this is helpful for at least
1. By using a standard XML file format that is routinely used to disseminate
syndicated data, in this case MCQs, anyone can 'plug in' to the search
engine. XML RSS files can be used anywhere that accepts this syndicated data
2. The XML RSS file returns the found questions along with a link back to
where those questions are hosted. This removes any issue of centralizing
questions and makes ownership of questions clear. What we're not trying to
do with this demonstrator is show how you should all contribute your
questions to a centralized source or service.
3. Your questions stay on your server and are delivered with your software.
This is important for those wishing to establish their own question delivery
4. XML is easy to transform into HTML. You can construct static URLs that
produce dynamic data for embedding into your HTML pages. Say you wanted to
build a resource page that pulls together various disparate data on a
subject theme. You can use XML RSS to do that. Email if you'd like to see
how we do this in our medical curriculum web site.
This demonstrator is just to help inform the debate about resource
discovery. We're not interested in setting up any kind of centralized
service at the University of Birmingham. And of course if you're not into
sharing your MCQs, then this isn't for you.
I'd be interested to hear the views of others on this.
Dr David A. Davies
Medical Education Unit
School of Medicine
The University of Birmingham
B15 2TT. UK.
Tel: 44 (0) 121 414 3255
Fax: 44 (0) 121 414 6919