Once Upon a Time in the Web: A Conference Throughout 20 Years of Web Archiving

by Ariane Bouchard, The Bibliothèque nationale de France20ans_archives_bannieretwitter_1500x500

2016 was a year of many anniversaries for web archiving: 25 years of the World Wide Web, 20 years of web archiving by Internet Archive, and in France, the 10th anniversary of DADVSI law (which created legal deposit of the Internet), and the 5th anniversary of the decree implementing it. To celebrate these anniversaries, the French National Library (BnF) and the National Audiovisual Institute (INA), the two institutions in charge of legal deposit of the Internet in France, organized in November 2016 a conference open to all and bringing together researchers, librarians and web pioneers. The event, called “Once upon a time in the web, 20 years of web archiving“, had three main objectives: to provide an overview of web archiving in France, to give demonstrations of discovery tools for web archives, and to present researchers’ works based on corpora from these collections.

The day started with a demonstration of BnF and INA discovery tools, on which much work has recently been carried out. On the BnF side, the main evolution is a full text prototype searching the “Incunabula of the web” (web archives between 1996 and 2000), a tool developed in cooperation with research teams from France’s National Scientific Research Center (CNRS). INA showed a demonstration of its search interface and visualization and research tools. Speakers and the audience agreed that these kinds of tools, especially those enabling full text searches, are the key for a wider and better use of archives.

This idea was confirmed even more by presentations from researchers who have actually used the tools to explore web archives. In recent years, INA and BnF have developed partnerships with several research teams or institutions, and the conference was the opportunity to share methodologies and needs. Among the panellists were Valérie Beaudouin, Dana Diminescu for E diaspora, Valérie Schafer and Francesca Musiani for Web 90 and ASAP, and Sophie Gebeil for her work on memory of migrations on the web. These presentations were much appreciated by the librarians in charge of building collections, as a rewarding return on their day to day work.

Topics of the day also included harvest of complex objects (such as videos, books and newspapers), the notion of territory (which is a notion induced by the scope of French law on legal deposit, although it seems somewhat paradoxical when it comes to the Internet), and legal issues regarding digital heritage.

Participants rewound time throughout the proceedings, from the present day to the beginning of the web. The last part of the conference thus gave room to pioneers and precursors. Julien Masanès and Bruno Bachimont told a lively story of the implantation of web archiving at the BnF and INA in the early 2000’s. Loïc Damidaville from AFNIC (registry for the extension .fr) and several web producers went back to the early days of the web in the late 90’s. They all conveyed the feeling that web archiving was – and still is – a great adventure.

In the end, the event attracted 200 people, and more visitors on Twitter (#20ansDLweb). But it reached a much larger audience thanks to a series of radio broadcasts, articles in national newspapers  (for example, in Le Monde in October 2016) , and of course on the web. From the point of view of France, 2016 certainly was a breakthrough year for web archiving, as it gained higher visibility. We hope that 2017 will be another great year.

Video recordings and proceedings of the conference will soon be available online.