The Future of Playback

By Kristinn Sigurðsson, Head of IT at the National and University Library of Iceland and the Lead of the IIPC Tools Development Portfolio

It is difficult to overstate the importance of playback in web archiving. While it is possible to evaluate and make use of a web archive via data mining, text extraction and analysis, and so on, the ability to present the captured content in its original form to enable human inspection of the pages. A good playback tool opens up a wide range of practical use cases by the general public, facilitates non-automated quality assurance efforts and (sometimes most importantly) creates a highly visible “face” to our efforts.

OpenWayback

Over the last decade or so, most IIPC members, who operate their own web archives in-house, have relied on OpenWayback, even before it acquired that name. Recognizing the need for a playback tool and the prevalence of OpenWayback, the IIPC has been supporting OpenWayback in a variety of ways over the last five or six years. Most recently, Lauren Ko (UNT), a co-lead of the IIPC’s Tools Development Portfolio, has shepherded work on OpenWayback and pushed out  new releases (thanks Lauren!).

Unfortunately, it has been clear for some time that OpenWayback would require a ground up rewrite if it were to be continued on. The software, now almost a decade and a half old, is complicated and archaic. Adding features is nearly impossible and often bug fixes require exceptional effort. This has led to OpenWayback falling behind as web material evolves. Its replay fidelity fading.

As there was no prospect for the IIPC to fund a full rewrite, the Tools Development Portfolio, along with other interested IIPC members, began to consider alternatives. As far as we could see, there was only one viable contender on the market, Pywb.

Survey

Last fall the IIPC sent out a survey to our members to get some insights into the playback software that is currently being used, plans to transition to pywb and what were the key roadblocks preventing IIPC members from adopting Pywb. The IIPC also organised online calls for members and got feedback from institutions who had already adopted Pywb.

Unsurprisingly, these consultations with the membership confirmed the – current – importance of OpenWayback. The results also showed a general interest in adopting to Pywb whilst highlighting a number of likely hurdles our members faced in that change. Consequently, we decided to move ahead with the decision to endorse Pywb as a replay solution and work to support IIPC members’ adoption of Pywb.

The members of the IIPC’s Tools Development Portfolio then analyzed the results of the survey and, in consultation with Ilya Kreymer, came up with a list of requirements that, once met, would make it much easier for IIPC members to adopt Pywb. These requirements were then divided into three work packages to be delivered over the next year.

Pywb

Over the last few years, Pywb has emerged as a capable alternative to OpenWayback. In some areas of playback it is better or at least comparable to OpenWayback, having been updated to account for recent developments in web technology. Being more modern and still actively maintained the gap between it and OpenWayback is only likely to grow. As it is also open source, it makes for a reasonable alternative for the IIPC to support as the new “go-to” replay tool.

However, while Pywb’s replay abilities are impressive, it is far from a drop-in replacement for OpenWayback. Notably, OpenWayback offers more customization and localization support than Pywb. There are also many differences between the two softwares that make migration from one to the other difficult.

To address this, the IIPC has signed a contract with Ilya Kreymer, the maintainer of the web archive replay tool Pywb. The IIPC will be providing financial support for the development of key new features in Pywb.

Planned work

The first work package will focus on developing a detailed migration guide for existing OpenWayback users. This will include example configuration for common cases and cover diverse backend setups (e.g. CDX vs. ZipNum vs. OutbackCDX).

The second package will have some Pywb improvements to make it more modular, extended support and documentation for localization and extended access control options.

The third package will focus on customization and integration with existing services. It will also bring in some improvements to the Pywb “calendar page” and “banner”, bringing to them features now available in OpenWayback.

There is clearly more work that can be done on replay. The ever fluid nature of the web means we will always be playing catch-up. As work progresses on the work packages mentioned above, we will be soliciting feedback from our community. Based on that, we will consider how best to meet those challenges.

Resources:

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