Records Management has a concept of record declaration. This is the point when we “draw a metaphorical line in the sand and fix the content of a record” (see the JISCInfo Kit on Records Management which also uses the term ‘fixity’ in this context.)
Most electronic records management systems (ERMS) provide users with the ability to perform this declaration automatically. When they do so, the digital content they have created (e-mail, document or whatever) becomes ‘fixed’. UK Government have called this creating ‘locked down and secure’ records, a necessary step for ensuring their authenticity and reliability.
But ERM systems seem to work best with static documents; authors of reports, for example, understand that a good time to declare their report as a record is when the final approved version has been accepted. Yet one of the distinctive features of Web 2.0 content is that the information is very fluid, and often there is no obvious point at which to draw this line and fix content.
One example might be blog posts. These can receive comments from the moment they are posted and well into the future. Not only this but many bloggers go back and edit previous posts and delete comments. This matter was recently discussed on Brian Kelly’s UKWeb Focus blog. Phil Wilson asked:
“Brian, is there any reason you never modify or update your posts when you’ve made an error, and instead make users plough through the comments to see if anything you’ve said is wrong?” (UK Web Focus Blog)
Brian’s response was that he sometimes fixes typos and layout issues but is:
“reluctant to change the meaning of a published post, even (or perhaps especially) if I make mistakes. In part I don’t want to undermine the authority of any comments or the integrity of any threaded discussions.”
Brian is open about this in his blog policy stating that only in exceptional circumstances will postings and comments be deleted.
Concerns about censorship and bloggers deleting posts/comments were also recently made in responses to What is fair play in the blogo/commentosphere? on Nature’s Blog.
Assuming that blog posts are to be included within a records management programme or a preservation programme, the issues described above might cause problems for those attempting to preserve authentic and reliable Web resources.
One approach is to be explicit in your Web Resource Preservation strategy about when you freeze Web resources for preservation, and the implications of doing so.
Another approach might involve an agreed institutional policy such as Brian has, but with an additional form of wording that is explicit about the status of blog posts as records, including when and how they should be declared as records, and whose responsibility it is to do so. Should selected blog posts be declared as records by their owners into the ERMS? Or will they all be harvested by an automated capture programme, and if so, how frequently?