Are There Three Key Aspects To Web Site Preservation?

In response to my post on “Don’t Web Managers Care About Preservation?” Kevin Ashley described how he “see[s] a distinction being made between preserving an experience and preserving the information which the experience makes available. Both are valid preservation approaches and both achieve different ends.

Kevin is correct – these distinctions are very real. And different sectors will may well have differing views as to the importance of preservation the underlying data or the user experience – this has surfaced at recent repository events, with some groups arguing that PDF provides a satisfactory means of preserving the user experience whilst others feel that it is more important to preserve the data which was used to create the PDFs.

But rather than revisiting such arguments in this blog I would like to reflect on a comment made by Chris Rusbridge in response to the same post mentioned above. Chris described how:

this grump came about partly because a number of organisations which are supposed to have a commitment to long-term access to information managed to destroy access through re-launches. Richard, I do like continuity, and also long-term accessibility (gets both angles!) rather than preservation…

Persistent URIs are not about technical solutions, they are about commitment. We must make sure we never break URIs!

We should note that Chris isn’t engaging with the argument of whether it’s the experience of the information which he wants to be preserved – rather it’s the means of access he wants to remain in place.

And this, I feel, is one of the most challenging aspects of Web site preservation – preserving the access mechanisms for the end user. This, then, is very different from preserving that valuable historical parchment which might be moved from public view,  send off to a company for renovation and then send on tour as part of a travelling exhibition. In this case the resource may be being curated, but access to end user is not available – or even expected.

In the case of Web resources a failure by an organisation to manage digital assets may result in the organisation losing valuable information. But what if the Web resources are simply migrated to an alternative location? Or the resources are embedded in other aspects of the organisation’s work? In such cases the organisation will argue that it hasn’t lost anything.  Rather it is the end user who may feel aggrieved – as Chris has clearly described.

So perhaps we have three key aspects to Web site preservation – preservation of the experience, the information and the access. Or, if you feel that access for end users is part of the experience, we might argue the need to preserve the experience and/or information to support the needs of the organisation and the needs of the user community.

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