Posted by Brian Kelly on June 17th, 2008
The enthusiastic way in which web-site owners “re-brand” or “re-launch” their web-sites suggests that they are not particularly interested, long-term, in the details of the experience; continuous improvement means continuous discarding. One hopes that they are more interested in the information content, in some more abstract sense. Maybe we could measure this by tracking older pages across re-launches?
Perhaps a measure of commitment to the “look and feel” might be the lifetime since last reorganised?
Is this right? Don’t Web site owners care about preservation, preferring instead to continually add new features to their services?
I have to say that I disagree. Rather than continual changes to Web sites due to the Web site owners’ enthusiasms, I would argue that such changes usually occur in response to user needs and expectations, the growing importance of Web services (which mean that institutions have greater expectations of the services which will be provided) and an increasing understanding of the limitations of approaches taken to Web site development in the past.
One example of this has been the obligation (for legal and moral reasons) to enhance the accessibility of Web resources. Initially HTML authoring tools and Content Management Systems (CMSs) provided little support to enhance accessibility – indeed many CMSs generated low quality HTML which could not be processed by assistive technologies. But as the technologies improved there was a moral obligation to redevelop Web sites to enhance their accessibility. And with the DDA/SENDA legislation requiring organisations to take ‘reasonable measures’ to ensure that users with disabilities were not discriminated against, there was also a legal requirement to make use of technologies which could enhance the accessibility of the Web resources.
We are now seeking similar tensions arising from the popularity of Web 2.0 services. And although it might appear appealing to try to resist the call to engage with such technologies the reality seems to be that if institutions fail to deploy more engaging, usable and useful services the users will fail to use the services and go elsewhere. We need to remember that, for example, a AJAX interface isn’t just a new technology which Web developers wish to deploy because it’s new, but, if used correctly, a way of deploying services which are easier-to-use and more accessible.
So rather than Chris’s suggestion that doing nothing should be an indicator of a commitment to preservation, I would argue that there is a need for continual development to our Web services (and I suspect that the JISC Innovation Group would agree with me on the need for continued innovation). But this innovation needs to be addressed with an awareness of the need to address preservation concerns.
The challenges of Web site preservation in a Web 2.0 environment will be addressed at the second JISC PoWR workshop. These issues will also be addressed in a number of forthcoming posts on this blog.