When Web Sites Outlast Their Welcome

The JISC PoWR is concerned with ensuring that Web sites and their content don’t disappear. Right? Actually this would be to misunderstand what Web site preservation is about. Sometimes there may be a need for Web sites to be deleted. Indeed there may be dangers (both in terms of brand management and legal issues) if the content of Web sites outlasts its welcome.

Take, for example, the Web site for the National Open Centre, which is illustrated.

National Open Centre Home Page
If you visit the Web site you will find a nicely designed and easy to use Web site for the National Open Centre (NOC) which is a:

“national policy institute, a think tank to understand and articulate strategies to make effective use of Open Source Software and Open Standards (OS&S) for the benefit of all. It will focus on nationally relevant issues leading to proactive strategies to ensure that the UK effectively exploits the opportunities that arise with OS&S. The NOC will be independent, strategic and proactive and seeks the participation of interested and informed people.”

A very worthy organisation, it would seem (and I should add that I was a member of the NOC’s Advisory Group and attended the first meeting). Sadly, despite having a launch event at the Houses of Parliament, the NOC was unsuccessful in its attempts to gain funding, despite having a launch event at the Houses of Parliament. To paraphrase the Monty Python sketch “the NOC is not resting. The NOC is no more! It is bereft of life. It is an ex-NOC!“.

But this isn’t what you’d think if you explored the Web site. The home page urges visitors to “Get Involved!” and describes how it has “established the first set of subject panels. The topics being researched/discussed are: Public procurement, Open Standards and Open Source/Open Standard for SMEs. The Get Involved page then encourages visitors to participate with the NOC in a number of ways, including joining the Advisory Board, Subject Panels or the NOC Community. The only subtle indications that the NOC is no longer operational are the dates on various pages (206 or 2007) and the broken link to the NOC’s wiki from the Get Involved page.

The failure to provide any indication that the NOC failed to receive funding may be embarrassing to the partners of the service, which are list on the home page. But as well as such possible embarrassment, what would happen if visitors arrive at the Events page and read details of the one-day event on Document Standards planned for 4 July, which is illustrated below.

National Open Centre Home Page

There is no indication that this refers to an event which was planned for 4 July 2007.
And there are no details about registration, although a location for the event is given (NCC offices, London). What might happen if someone travels to London to attend the workshop (which covers interesting aspects related to open document formats, with apparent participation from companies such as Microsoft). If this happened, I’m sure the potential participants would be pretty upset to discover that the NOC folded last year.

This is, I would agree, unlikely to happen. But what if the information about the event had been held on one of the NOC’s partner organisations, such as Birmingham City Council?

This example is taken from the wider public sector. But within the higher and further education sector, with short term project funding provided for much development work, institutions may find themselves in a simple situation, with the intentions of a project team failing to be realised due to a failure to win funding, and perhaps a loss of project staff.

How should this possible scenario be addressed? This is something to be addressed in future posts, but for now your comments and suggestions would be welcomed.

3 thoughts on “When Web Sites Outlast Their Welcome

  1. edpinsent

    Brian, I think your scenario simply illustrates a need for improved content management and web management. Surely the solution to this problem is not ‘deletion’ of the site, as you seem to be suggesting, but greater attention paid by NOC to its publication programme and to the managed removal of expired information. And if the organisation itself no longer exists, it should be saying so on the front page.

    “Sometimes there may be a need for Web sites to be deleted” appears to me a rather drastic phrase, when perhaps you simply mean that the expired pages should be taken down and removed from public access. “Deletion” suggests that you would like the offending pages destroyed completely, a strategy which denies the possibility of NOC (or another agency) ever adding these pages to a web site archive. NOC should at least be keeping copies of their event activities; I agree with you that either they shouldn’t be doing it online, or they should clearly mark such pages as ‘archived events’ or referring to events in the past.

  2. Maureen

    Hi Brian,
    I agree with Ed – complete deletion seems somewhat drastic; better content management is the key!

    This seems a good case for public labelling of a site as ‘archived’ – though I don’t believe there is any consensus on what that actually means in the web management community. It’s perhaps also indicative of the low priority organisations sometimes give to maintenance of their websites once they are up and running, let alone once they have disbanded.

  3. Ed

    From ths inside I can say that updating the site became contentious – what wording to use to say that it was “not dead” but resting got caught in the politics of the time and I suspect, then forgotten about.
    The good news is that the site (& aparently the domain) no longer exist!

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