IIPC Hackathon at the British Library: Laying a New Foundation

By Tom Cramer, Stanford University

This past week, 22-23 September 2016, members of the IIPC gathered at the British Library for a hackathon focused on web crawling technologies and techniques. The event saw 14 technologists from 12 institutions near (the UK, Netherlands, France) and far (Denmark, Iceland, Estonia, the US and Australia). The event provided a rare opportunity for an intensive, two-day, uninterrupted deep dive into how institutions are capturing web content, and to explore opportunities for advancing the state of the art.

I was struck by the breadth and depth of topics. In particular…

  • Heritrix nuts and bolts. Everything from small tricks and known issues for optimizing captures with Heritrix 3, to how people were innovating around its edges, to the history of the crawler, to a wishlist for improving it (including better documentation).
  • Brozzler and browser-based capture. Noah Levitt from the Internet Archive, and the engineer behind Brozzler, gave a mini-workshop on the latest developments, and how to get it up and running. This was one of the biggest points of interest as institutions look to enhance their ability to capture dynamic content and social media. About ⅓ of the workshop attendees went home with fresh installs on their laptops. (Also note, per Noah, pull requests welcome!)
  • Technical training. Web archiving is a relatively esoteric domain without a huge community; how have institutions trained new staff or fractionally assigned staff to engaged effectively with web archiving systems? This appears to be a major, common need, and also one that is approachable. Watch this space for developments…
  • QA of web captures: as Andy Jackson of the British Library put it, how can we tip the scales of mostly manual QA with some automated processes, to mostly automated QA with some manual training and intervention?
  • An up-to-date registry of web archiving tools. The IIPC currently maintains a list of web archiving tools, but it’s a bit dated (as these sites tend to become). Just to get the list in a place where tool users and developers can update it, a working copy of this list is now in the IIPC Github organization. Importantly, the group decided that it might be just as valuable to create a list of dead or deprecated tools, as these can often be dead ends for new adopters. See (and contribute to) https://github.com/iipc/iipc.github.io/wiki  Updates welcome!
  • System & storage architectures for web archiving. How institutions are storing, preserving and computing on the bits. There was a great diversity of approaches here, and this is likely good fodder for a future event and more structured knowledge sharing.

The biggest outcome of the event may have been the energy and inherent value in having engineers and technical program managers spending lightly structured face time exchanging information and collaborating. The event was a significant step forward in building awareness of approaches and people doing web archiving.

IIPC Hackathon, Day 1.

This validates one of the main focal points for the IIPC’s portfolio on Tools Development, which is to foster more grassroots exchange among web archiving practitioners.

The participants committed to keeping the dialogue going, and to expanding the number of participants within and beyond IIPC. Slack is emerging as one of the main channels for technical communication; if you’d like to join in, let us know. We also expect to run multiple, smaller face-to-face events in the next year: 3 in Europe and another 2-3 in North America with several delving into APIs, archiving time-based media, and access. (These are all in addition to the IIPC General Assembly and Web Archiving Conference in 27-30 March 2017, in Lisbon.) If you have an idea for a specific topic or would like to host an event, please let us know!

Many thanks to all the participants at the hackathon last week, and to the British Library (especially Andy Jackson and Olga Holownia) for hosting last week’s hackathon. It provided exactly the kind of forum needed by the web archiving community to share knowledge among practitioners and to advance the state of the art.

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