By Kathryn Stine, Manager, Digital Content Development and Strategy at the California Digital Library
Cobweb is a recently launched collaborative collection development platform for web archives, now available for anyone to use to establish and participate in web archiving collecting projects at https://cobwebarchive.org. A cross-institutional team from UCLA, the California Digital Library (CDL), and Harvard University has developed Cobweb, which was made possible in part by funding from the United States Institute for Museum and Library Services and initially hosted by CDL. We’ve been encouraged by the enthusiasm and engagement that’s met Cobweb and look forward to supporting a range of collaborative and coordinated web archiving collecting projects with this new platform.
At the 2018 IIPC Web Archiving Conference in New Zealand, Cobweb tutorial attendees played with Cobweb functionality and provided useful feedback and ideas for platform refinements and future feature options. Thank you to all who have shared their suggestions for advancing Cobweb! A number of demonstration projects are now on the platform that showcase how Cobweb supports web archiving collection development activities, including nominating web resources to a project and claiming intentions for, and following through with, archiving nominated web content. Additionally, the extensive Archive of the California Government Domain (CA.gov) has been established as a Cobweb collecting project and the CA.gov team is considering how to integrate Cobweb into its collection development workflows.
Cobweb centralizes the often distributed activities that go into developing web archive collections, allowing for multiple contributors and organizations to work together towards realizing common collecting goals. The coordinated activities that result in rich, useful web archive collections can draw upon distinct areas of expertise or capacity including subject specialization, technical facility with content capture, and resources for storing and managing content. The Cobweb platform is well-suited to supporting curated and crowdsourced collection building, from complex, multi-partner initiatives to local efforts that require coordination, such as that between digital archivists and library subject selectors.
In the third guest blog post presenting the results of Investiga XXI, DIOGO DUARTE, introduces his study of the emergence of the Straight Edge, a drug-free punk subculture, in Portugal which was made through the web pages preserved by Arquivo.pt. Being an international and informal suburban culture, Straight Edge had in the internet one of the factors of its expansion in the second half of the nineties. This text presents a first approach to build the history of the Straight Edge culture.
Since its eruption in the second half of the 1970s, punk was characterized by a multiplicity of derived experiences and expressions that defied the simplistic and sensationalist picture often portrayed of a self-destructive movement (due to the drug and alcohol excesses of some of its members). One of those expressions with a significant growth and impact was Straight Edge.
Sober punk: “I’ve got better things to do”
Born in the beginning of the 1980’s in Washington D.C., U.S.A., by the voice of one of the most emblematic bands of punk-hardcore history, Minor Threat, Straight Edge was one of the answers to that self-destructive spiral. Besides the refusal to consume addictive substances, vegetarianism and animal rights became strongly associated with Straight Edge lifestyle since its beginning.
Minor Threat lyrics quickly found echo in a number of individuals that identified themselves with punk rebelliousness and the raw energy of its loud and fast music but that were not feeling attracted to some of its common behaviors. In a short notice, Straight Edge was reclaimed as an identity by a growing number of bands and individuals all over the United States.
The explosion of Straight Edge in Portugal
In Portugal, this punk subculture started to explode in the beginning of the 1990s, with X-Acto, the first Straight Edge band, appearing in 1991. Through this decade, Straight Edge never stopped to grow, with more and more bands and individuals reclaiming its principles to guide their lives.
In the second half of the 1990s, Internet became of the of main platforms of communication within the Straight Edge community. Making it easier to spread its ideas and events among a larger audience, the internet created a new space of sociability complementary to the concerts and other meeting spaces.
The growth of the Straight Edge culture reflected some of the social and political dynamics of the Portuguese society that emerged during the 1990s, but it also contributed to accelerate those changes, particularly through its interventional and strongly politicized characteristics.
Anti-consumption, anti-capitalism, anti-racism, feminism, ecology and, especially, veganism and animal rights were some of the causes more actively promoted by the Straight Edge followers.
As a predominantly suburban culture, informal and absent of any institutional structure, based in the punk Do It Yourself ethics, Straight Edge remained underground, without any media or public visibility. Information circulated through concerts, through independent distributors and, with the Internet, online through online forums, websites or blogs.
The importance of web archives to the study of popular subcultures
With the slowing down of the movement during the early 2000’s, much of the information available online that documented the existence of this culture disappeared – in some cases irretrievably – without having been preserved in traditional archives or without leaving a trace in institutional media.
Thus, the possibilities of studying the Straight Edge culture and its impact on the Portuguese society were severely reduced. Arquivo.pt recovered and archived many of those pages and re-opened the possibility of studying then.
The websites preserved by Arquivo.pt were the basis of this research. Through them, we observed Straight Edge’s eruption, expansion, consolidation and decline in Portugal and analyzed the changes that occurred in its internal dynamics, in its main concerns and the splits that traversed it (firstly, in its relation to punk culture in general, and then inside the Straight Edge scene itself).
This study provided a glimpse into the potential that web archives offer for the study of almost any contemporary culture, providing a new source of information for social groups and events that are usually underrepresented in traditional archives.
Without web archives, the study of the eruption of the Straight Edge culture in Portugal would have been impossible, just a few years after it happened.
In the Internet age, the same applies to a lot of different phenomena, even to those widely studied. Undeniably, research using web archives implies new methodological and epistemological challenges, but the main challenge is also an opportunity to find new perspectives and new study objects.
A study about the transformations of newspaper websites can only be carried out because there are web archives preserving materials that the newspapers themselves do not preserve or provide. In the second guest blog post in the series showcasingInvestiga XXI, DIOGO SILVA DA CUNHA, University of Lisbon, presents the results of his project focusing on transformations of this kind in four Portuguese newspapers using Arquivo.pt.
The transition to what is referred to as Digital Age and Information Society implied a great transformation which continues to take place at several levels. The professionals of the various communication sectors are now confronted at the forefront with new conditions to perform their work.
An important change occurred at the level of the support of journalistic messages. Since the 1990s, newspapers have begun to translate their printed press editions into online editions.
At the end of the 90s, great importance was given to online editions, focusing part of the newsroom workflow on their update 24/7, an approach known as “web-first” or “online first”. Something was happening. Born-digital content has become an integral part of today’s journalism with some of this content being published exclusively in the newspaper’s online editions.
The disappearance of born-digital newspaper materials
It is now common to consider in the context of Communication, Media and Journalism Studies that the structure of the online newspaper websites can accumulate journalistic materials and can be consulted in the long term by both journalists and readers, according to search filters specific to such structure.
In the same line of reasoning, it seems that the expectations of journalists and other professionals linked to newspapers and media companies are similar. The existence of such expectations was confirmed in the present research on the Portuguese newspaper websites.
But, as Web Archiving Studies have been showing, there is a general trend for websites to be deeply modified or disappear within a year. In the case of newspaper websites, the problem is aggravated by the fact that they are updated at least daily and their structure as a whole, from its URL to its layout, also undergoes changes, although this happens over a longer period of time. So, although the news content produced by journalists may remain on the newspaper websites for a while, these websites end up with missing elements or they just disappear.
The transformations of Portuguese newspaper websites: a case study
Web archives can be seen as an alternative in terms of public, direct and interactive access to born-digital journalistic materials that are not preserved or that are not publicly provided by newspapers and their media companies. In this sense, a web archive becomes an information technology structure which functions as a ‘source’ in the conventional, historiographical sense of the term.
The research on the transformations of Portuguese newspaper websites, that was carried out using Arquivo.pt, focused on a longitudinal study (1996-2016) of the structure of the websites of four weekly and daily newspapers: Correio da Manhã, Diário de Notícias, Expresso and Público.
The process of describing and comparing the preserved versions of those newspapers’ homepages in Arquivo.pt enabled us to reconstruct the development trends between the different layouts and the different web addresses of these pages. From this work, we drew the following general conclusions:
Websites are increasingly extensive and vertically oriented;
Websites gradually become aesthetically cohesive, consolidating the newspaper’s visual identity;
Changes are increasingly less noticeable as they tend to be on the “micro” rather than “macro” level (see Fig. 2)
More embedded images and videos are used, often framed in galleries, the number of links, buttons, menus and scroll bars has also increased over time;
The visual changes, along with the changes of web addresses, are sometimes shaped by the relationships of the media companies with audiovisual and telecommunications companies, e.g. in the different versions shown in Fig.3, the names, colors and/or symbols of these companies are present in the user interface of the newspapers (we see Clix logo on the top left and a pink button on the top right corner in 2007 and in the 2012 capture they are replaced by the AEIOU logo).
It is now possible to propose at least three ways to looking at the developments listed above:
using digital tools for detailed analysis of changes in layouts at the level of information design,
extending the scope of the study to the websites of other newspapers (e.g. other countries, other companies, other types of social institutions, etc.),
widening the scope of the study even more to confront the lines of development discovered with web publishing models beyond the spectrum of journalism (e.g. blogs).
It is also worth underlining that it is fundamental to develop a systematic reflection on the web archives as such, perceiving them not only as informatic structures, but also as ‘research infrastructures’, with their own professional and epistemic cultures. In the terms of research on web archives, the work of Niels Brügger seems to offer an excellent starting point. However, it will be crucial to consider web archives in the context of Big Data discussions around reductionist and empiricist trends in the social sciences.
A reflection of this kind would integrate web archives in discussions about ontology, epistemology, methodology, culture, economy and politics. The question would be to think of web archives not only as instruments of access to the world, not only as windows to the digital recent past, but as devices that are part of the constitution of the world, as mediating technologies with their own implications in retrospective placement, themselves part of the digitalization process.
As outlined above, it’s equally important that there is a dialogue between researchers, journalists and newspaper editorial staff. The general problem of digital preservation, especially complicated in the field of media and journalism, makes clear the need to establish digital preservation guides for journalists and editors and to promote the joint discussion of information curation initiatives, if we don’t want today’s news to be forgotten tomorrow.
Diego Duarte, The Study of punk culture through the Portuguese Web Archive
Ricardo Basílio, Memory of the online presence of a Faculty: an exhibition
About the author:
Diogo Silva da Cunha is a PhD student of Philosophy of Science and Technology, Art and Society at the University of Lisbon. His major fields of interest are epistemology of the social sciences and communication, media and journalism studies. Diogo Silva da Cunha recently participated in a study on the digitalization process in Portuguese journalism promoted by the respective national regulatory entity. Last year, he participated in the research project of Arquivo.pt, in the context of which he proposed, developed and applied a model of analysis of journalistic material available in web archives.
FCSH was founded in 1977 and it is part of Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Since 1997, that FCSH websites have been used as communication interfaces with its community of teachers, researchers and students.
Arquivo.pt preserves web content published since 1996. Therefore, the time span of the web content preserved by Arquivo.pt covers 20 years of the institutional online memory of FCSH, that is half of the Faculty’s lifetime.
In the early years of the Web, the FCSH website mostly replicated printed information. However, it has gradually become a comprehensive portal to academic live at the Faculty including also news, lists of researchers, research programs or access points to services.
Research centers are important entities of the Faculty’s ecosystem. In 1997 there were 30 small research centers, but in the 2016 they were merged into 16 larger ones.
The research centers are autonomous, manage their own projects and organize specific events. This fact resulted in the creation of over 100 additional related websites serving various purposes, such as institutional communication, project descriptions and event promotions.
The online exhibition aimed to create an institutional memory through a chronological narrative built from past web pages preserved by Arquivo.pt.
Synthesizing 20 years of memories into a single page
The project began by inventorying a large number of current websites related to the Faculty activities. We subsequently narrowed our scope to include only the institutional websites leaving other ones for future work (e.g. projects and events). All the identified websites were targeted to be preserved by Arquivo.pt.
The data collection was performed manually through the Arquivo.pt search interfaces. We mainly searched for the hostname and analyzed the corresponding version history, noticing its main content changes and references to external websites of events and projects. The data was collected, selected and registered into a page per organizational unity (see Fig. 2).
Some research centers adopted multiple hostnames along time. On the other hand, the institutional identity may have also changed due to organizational merging, name changes or different institutional frameworks. For example, CHAM “Centro de Humanidades” (in 2017) had two previous names: “Centro d’Além Mar” in 2002 and then changed to “Centro d’Aquém e d’Além Mar” in 2013-2014, when merged with “Centro de História da Cultura – CHC”, “Centro de Estudos Históricos – CEH” and “Instituto Oriental – IO”. Although, the hostname of the website has never changed: cham.fcsh.unl.pt.
Sometimes it was not straightforward to conclude if we were facing the same organizational entity after a merge, even when the website remained with the same title, hostname and URL. It’s hard, however, to imagine that the entity changed if everything remained the same. Therefore, our conclusions were validated through interviews with current and previous staff of the Faculty and research centers. Hence, the importance of institutional support and direct interaction with the entities.
Designing a time travel to the past
The objective was to create a website with a clean look and that was easy to browse. We anchored its navigation on suggestive images extracted from preserved web pages, to reinforce that it is an exhibition about online memory, rather than about current information available on the live-Web.
Thus, the homepage of the online exhibition presents a collection of preserved web images from old websites of organizational units that belonged to FCSH.
The chosen publishing platform was the free version of WordPress.com, so that anyone can create a similar project, despite a potential lack of financial resources.
By clicking on each image, the user is taken to a page that describes the online memory of each entity of the Faculty. It presents the following elements: featured image, brief synopsis, list of addresses along time and selection of mesmerizing moments.
The description of each entity has a maximum length of 150 words and includes links to versions preserved on Arquivo.pt. This interaction between the online exhibition and the web archive aims to provide the user experience of browsing an institutional memory.
The exhibition is complemented with frequently asked questions and tutorials related to digital preservation.
Future work, because a website is never finished
The next step is to promote this exhibition through the institutional communication channels of the Faculty (e.g. institutional website, mailing lists).
The exhibition still has plenty of room to be complemented with additional entities that could be aggregated in collections organized by topic or scientific area.
Direct interaction with research centers is mandatory as well as organization of training courses on web preservation and research to raise awareness to the importance of web archiving.
This project was developed in just 3 months, between May and July 2017. This short time span forced us to focus and set priorities on the most important issues. We would still be lost now choosing plug-ins if we had had more time and, however, would the extra plug-ins had actually been needed to accomplish the objectives? The users don’t seem to miss them on the exhibition.
We aimed to demonstrate that anyone could develop a similar exhibition to preserve the online memory of an organization without requiring significant financial resources or technical skills.
We hope that this project will encourage librarians and archivists to create ways of preserving the online memory of their institutions.
Ricardo Basílio, has a Master in Documentation and Information Sciences, was a librarian at the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of Universidade Nova de Lisboa, and at the Art Library of Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, on the digital collections about portuguese tiles, the “DigiTile” project. His areas of interest are digital preservation, digital libraries and technologies that support information. Created and manages a website in Portuguese about Digital Preservation (Digital Preservation Guide).
So far there have been over 1,360 nominations from at least 28 countries around the world. As you can see from the map of the world, there is a high concentration from Europe as many IIPC members are based there. However, as you zoom in on the map of European nominations, there are still many gaps.
This is your chance to get involved in the collection phase by nominating online content that you are reading, using for research or simply know the language from that country. We are trying to get as many pins on the map from around the world as possible. Nevertheless, some of the pins already there may just have one website nomination so far. Even if you see a pin on your country or another country where you speak the language, we still want your nominations.
Just to remind you, what we want to collect:
Public platforms in various formats such as:
Subsections of websites with an Olympic tag
Blogs and Social Media
The subjects covered on these sites can include but is not limited to:
Sara Aubry (National Library of France), Helena Byrne (British Library), Naomi Dushay (Stanford University), Pamela Graham (Columbia University), Andy Jackson (British Library), Gillian Lee (National Library of New Zealand) and Gethin Rees (British Library).
From the 11th to 13th of June 2017 a group of seven individuals from five institutions came together to analyse a web archive collection at a datathon held at the British Library as part of the Web Archiving Week. The aim of Archives Unleashed is for programmers and researchers to come together to develop new strategies to analyse web archive collections. Our team was a mix of technical and curatorial staff, and we were working with the IIPC Content Development Group (CDG) National Olympic Committees collection.
The IIPC is a membership organization dedicated to improving the tools, standards and best practices of web archiving while promoting international collaboration and the broad access and use of web archives for research and cultural heritage. The Content Development Group is a subgroup of the IIPC and specialises in building collaborative international web archive collections.
We initially started with idea of working with London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic collaborative crawl collections but both these data sets were too large for us to work with in the short time frame we had. This is why we decided to work with theNational Olympic and Paralympic Committees collection.
Our research question was “What is the gender distribution of National Olympic Committees?”.
The data we had
The 2016 National Olympic and Paralympic Committees collection is a comprehensive collection of national Olympic/Paralympic committees drawn from IOC official sites. In 2016 191 seeds crawled as not all International Olympic Committee member countries have a website.
The 191 seeds translated into 152 WARC files and was 294 GB in size. However, there was an issue when the files were downloaded and a number of the files were corrupted. After programmatically separating the corrupted files from the good there were 76 WARC files that were 74 GB in size to work with. Although, this was 50% of the collection it was more than enough data to work with over the two days.
After the technical team isolated the usable WARCs and had a look at the tools available to run our analysis it was decided to scale down our research question to “What is the gender distribution of English speaking national Olympic Committees?”. As the tools used to run this analysis was developed in north America there is a bias towards English language names. The curatorial team identified all the English speaking countries that were represented in the full collection. We used this list to filter out non English speaking countries from the clean WARCs so that we would have a smaller subset to run our analyses. The usable WARCs had seven English speaking countries.
How we worked on it
Several Linux virtual machines were prepared by the organizers specifically for the hackathon so that the WARC files were easily accessible and the participants didn’t have to transfer large amounts of data and also to ensure that there was enough processing capacity. We started by installing three tools that we had identified as being useful on a designated virtual machine:
– Warcbase, an open source platform to facilitate the analysis and processing of web archives with Hadoop and Apache Spark. It provides tools to extract content, filter it down, and then analyze, aggregate and visualize it. [ Note that Warcbase has now been superseded by The Archives Unleashed Toolkit.
– Warcbase also includes a key tool for our analysis: Stanford Named Entity Recognizer (NER) for named entity recognition. It gives the ability to identify and label sequences of words in a text which are the names of things, particularly for the 3 classes person, organization and location.
– finally, OpenGenderTracking, another open source tool, which gives a framework to identify the likely gender based on a person’s first name.
Step 1 of the analysis consisted of extracting all named entities from the WARCs using warcbase and NER with a scala script derived from sample scripts provided with warcbase. The output was a list (in JSON format) of domain records with for each its associated PERSON, ORGANIZATION and LOCATION extracted entities and their frequency of occurrence.
In step 2, with a Python script, we matched the extracted PERSON names with a framework containing a large structured list of first names built from the US census and the probability of each being a male or a female first name. The output was a result list (in CSV format) of this association.
The analysis was run on two sub datasets:
– the committee pages: 16 of them contained entities (which was small and fast to process);
– the entire collection: 1 251 pages contained entities (which was bigger and took a few hours to process).
All scripts developed during the hackathon can be accessed on Github:
Gender representation by country of the 7 English speaking countries identified in the set.‘No match’ means the name didn’t appear in the reference source for identifying names.
‘Unknown’ means the reference source couldn’t identify whether the name was male or female.
Alternative research question?
Each National Committee has official partners that sponsor their participation in the Olympics. When we ran the entity extraction for corporations, it raised further questions about what percentage of the site is taken up with references to commercial sponsorship. The gender and corporation names are just two of many entities that could be extracted from the data set using this methodology.
What we got out of it
Sara Aubry, Bibliothèque nationale de France
“My participation to the hackathon was linked to BnF current efforts in engaging researchers to use web archives as data sets. We aimed at discussing research topic ideas, learning how to use available open source tools, tackling limitations and sharing practices among participants.What I liked most was the hackathon model itself that challenged us into collaborative work in a very short period of time. I guess a little more time would have been useful to explore and compare the results of the analysis we ran.”
Pamela Graham, Columbia University
“I enjoyed our sub-groupings into programmers/technical experts and curators (forgive this oversimplification). As a curator, I needed a better understanding of the process of working with web archive data. Since I don’t have programming skills, this was more of a conceptual exercise than a practical one. I gained a good, first-hand sense of the issues and challenges of analyzing web data. But even more helpful was the attempt the curators made to evaluate the collection–how and why were the sites selected and what’s missing? This is really important to interpreting the results and reinforced for me the importance of curation. I greatly benefited from talking with Helena and Gillian on these issues.”
Gethin Rees, British Library
“Having recently started as a curator working with digital collections at the British Library I was keen to learn about web archives. I was also intent on improving my use of python for data science. I loved being introduced to new technologies like Hadoop and connecting to powerful computers in north America. Next time I would try to get stuck in to processing some WARC files independently.”
Gillian Lee, National Library of New Zealand
“I wanted to see what tools were available to help people analyse data in web archives. The collaborative aspect was great. I discovered you have to refine and reduce your data set quite substantially and that the scope and provenance of the collections is really important for researchers. I don’t feel I’m any closer to actually using Warcbase myself (yet), but I had more of an understanding of the kind of research that could be done using Warcbase and associated tools. Given the time frame we were working in and the amount of corrupted data we encountered, I would say the process was more valuable than the output!”
Helena Byrne, British Library
“For me as a curator my expectations of how things work were quite different from the reality but the overall experience was still good as it gave me a better understanding of the process. It was also useful to discuss the differences I had in expectation and reality with Pamela and Gillian as we were able to come up with ways we could assist the technical team.”