Before and after

Many good ideas are already coming out of the first PoWR workshop. One thing I personally found illuminating was one of the breakout sessions which I facilitated, called ‘The history of the Institution’s home page’.

The scenario required an institution to provide ‘examples of how the web site has developed since it was launched’. (Brian Kelly has already broached this topic here). My colleagues discussed this conundrum with great vigour, but most had to admit they drew a blank when it came to producing even a basic screenshot from five years ago. Instead, there was a lot of ‘folk memory’ and anecdotal evidence, also sometimes called ‘tacit knowledge’. It was clear that everyone was aware that their web site had changed (and sometimes even improved) quite dramatically in the last 5-10 years. It’s just that no-one could lay their hands on any evidence of the changes. Imagine it like one of those ‘before and after’ reveals which you might get on Changing Rooms on TV. The problem with web sites is that we can’t always lay hands on the ‘before’ picture.

Some drivers for changes included:

  • Corporate or institutional rebranding
  • Move to a Content Management System
  • Content provider change
  • External consultancy

And the following sorts of web site elements were subject to change:

  • Design, branding, colours, logos
  • Accessibility
  • Language
  • Content – obviously(!) – but do we know what content was added and what was thrown away?
  • Navigation – clicks and links became more consistent across the site
  • More pages – a site which used to be one ‘main page’ for the entire institution is now much larger and more complex, and every Department in the University now has a suite of pages
  • More interactive elements, including automated forms
  • Site became more searchable
  • More media, video and audio content was embedded
  • Distinction between internal and external content became more pronounced

It’s also interesting that one of our colleagues thought that the CMS also added some constraints to working; what once was easy is now much more difficult. I’m sure this is a trade-off we find with most new ways of working and it isn’t meant to imply that a CMS is always evil.

Kevin Ashley heard this summary with some interest and jokingly suggested that perhaps some form of oral history was the relevant preservation solution here. Yet if we have no other evidence of a web site’s history, who knows – it may yet turn out to be the last resort.