JISC PoWR

Preservation of Web Resources: a JISC-funded project [Archived Blog]

Archiving a wiki

Posted by Ed Pinsent on March 25th, 2009

On dablog recently I have put up a post with a few observations about archiving a MediaWiki site. The example is the UKOLN Repositories Research Team wiki DigiRep, selected for the JISC to add to their UKWAC collection (or to put it more accurately, pro-actively offered for archiving by DigiRep’s manager). The post illustrates a few points which we have touched on in the PoWR Handbook, which I’d like to illuminate and amplify here.

Firstly, we don’t want to gather absolutely everything that’s presented as a web page in the wiki, since the wiki contains not only the user-input content but also a large number of automatically generated pages (versioning, indexing, admin and login forms, etc). This stems from the underlying assumption about doing digital preservation, mainly that it costs money to capture and store digital content, and it goes on costing money to keep on storing it. (Managing this could be seen as good housekeeping. The British Library Life and Life2 projects have devised ingenious and elaborate formulae for costing digital preservation, taking all the factors into account to enable you to figure out if you can really afford to do it.) In my case, there are two pressing concerns: (a) I don’t want to waste time and resource in the shared gather queue while Web Curator Tool gathers hundreds of pages from DigiRep, and (b) I don’t want to commit the JISC to paying for expensive server space, storing a bloated gather which they don’t really want.

Secondly, the above assumptions have led to me making a form of selection decision, i.e. to exclude from capture those parts of the wiki I don’t want to preserve. The parts I don’t want are the edit history and the discussion pages. The reason I don’t want them is because UKWAC users, the target audience for the archived copy – or the designated user community, as OAIS calls it – probably don’t want to see them either. All they will want is to look at the finished content, the abiding record of what it was that DigiRep actually did.

This selection aspect led to Maureen Pennock’s reply, which is a very valid point – there are some instances where people would want to look at the edit history. Who wrote what, when…and why did it change? If that change-history is retrievable from the wiki, should we not archive it? My thinking is that yes, it is valuable, but only to a certain audience. I would think the change history is massively important to the current owner-operators of DigiRep, and that as its administrators they would certainly want to access that data. But then I put on my Institutional records management hat, and start to ask them how long they really want to have access to that change history, and whether they really need to commit the Institution to its long-term (or even permanent) preservation. Indeed, could their access requirement be satisfied merely by allowing the wiki (presuming it is reasonably secure, backed-up etc.) to go on operating the way it is, as a self-documenting collaborative editing tool?

All of the above raises some interesting questions which you may want to consider if undertaking to archive a wiki in your own Institution. Who needs it, how long for, do we need to keep every bit of it, and if not then which bits can we exclude? Note that they are principally questions of policy and decision-making, and don’t involve a technology-driven solution; the technology comes in later, when you want to implement the decisions.