Author Archives: Brian Kelly

History of the First UK Institutional Web Service

It was 15 years ago, the first week back at work after the Christmas break (I think) when I was part of the team which set up the Web service at the University of Leeds. This was, I believe, the UK’s first institutional Web service, with contributions made shortly afterwards from several academic departments, including not only the usual suspects (the Computing Service, Computer Science, Chemistry and Physics) but also the School of Music.

Various people at the University of Leeds were active in Web development activities back then. My role was in promoting its use (and I’ve discovered a copy of a special issue of the University Computing Service newsletter on the theme on online information services – in particular the Web – which is available on the Internet Archive). But in addition the Chemistry Department were, in conjunction with Imperial College, developing services which provided access to molecules on the Web; a colleague in the Computing Service provided access to the University Libraruy catalogue and Nikos Drakos, a researcher in the Computer Based Learning Unit, wrote the Latex2HTML conversion software (which was first announced in May 1993).

Fifteen years later my memories of our early involvement with the Web are beginning to fade. But as I knew this would happen I write a history of the various activities of colleagues at the University, which was published on the University”s Web site. Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, over time this resource was deleted, no doubt following a reorganisation of the Web site.

But this does not necessarily mean that the information is no longer available. As well as being an early adopter of the Web, the Computing Service had also had long standing involvement in digital preservation. And so the file should still be available on the University’s archive service. But although the bits and bytes may still be available, what are the processes needed for this resource to be retrieved?  Is this a service which the University offers? And is it a service which can be provided to a former member of staff, who left the University over 13 years ago?

As JISC PoWR project team members have commented previously, digital preservation isn’t just about the technical aspects of preservating bits in a format suitable for processing in the future – it’s also about the policies and the procedures.  And I think it’s time I send an email to my former colleagues to see ifthis resource can be retrieved.  I’ll provide details of my experiences in a future post.

CASPAR Training Days

Too late to be of much use, I suspect, but just before Christmas I received an email containing details of two CASPAR (Cultural, Artistic and Scientific knowledge for Preservation, Access and Retrieval ) Training Days. The CASPAR Training Day for the Cultural Domain will be held on 12 January 2009 and the CASPAR Training Day for the Scientific Domain on the following day (13 January 2009).

The seminars will take place in Rome, and are free to attend. If you require further information please email:

Looking Back … and Looking Foward

A news item entitled Preserving web resources – new advisory handbook published on the 9th December 2008 on the JISC Web site Neil Grindley, manager of JISC’s Digital Preservation programme, described how “the JISC PoWR handbook helps institutions to identify where material of interest might exist, which elements may require long-term access and how these decisions can link into wider institutional policies“.

Neil went on to add that “The PoWR handbook recognises that preservation is not an end in itself, but that it can complement an institution’s mission, whether that be improving the quality of research, conforming with national policy or avoiding the threat of legal action. It will evolve following the practical experience of its use to ensure it remains at the forefront of best practice advice for web preservation issues“.

The JISC PoWR project has been formally completed – but the interests of the project team (UKOLN and ULCC) in the area of preservation continues. We have agreed that we will continue to publish posts on this blog which are relevant to the area of the preservation of Web resources for a period of time- we will seek to publish at least 3 posts per month. Around Easter time we will review the status of this blog. As well as posts from members of the JISC PoWR project team we would also welcome guest blog posts from the community. So if you would like to write something about your interests in the area of Web site preservation please contact Marieke Guy (email

But for now on behalf of the JISC PoWR team I’d like to wish everyone a happy and enjoyable Christmas.

When Funding Bodies Shut Down

An email sent to the MLANORTHEAST-NEWS JISCMail list provides details of the implications of the closure of the MLA North East regional Agency on the Web services it has set up or commissioned.

The message states :

MLA North East Websites after 12th December, 2008

MLA North East over recent years has set up several websites which we have managed on behalf of the sector. This brief note is to inform you of the arrangements made for each of the sites.  a holding page will refer visitors to MLA council site at All other content will be taken down at 4.00pm on Friday 12th December, 2008.  currently a portal to our sector’s on-line stores selling local studies material and other ephemera. The content will be taken down at 4.00pm on Friday 12th December, 2008. The domain name is now owned  by One NorthEast.  a portal to North East archives services, providing links to catalogues and paid-for  professional support in researching archives. This will continue under the auspices of the North East Regional Archives Council [NERAC] Contact Liz Rees a portal to learning resources to teachers, pupils, parents and carers providing venue guides, information regarding learning visits and links to some of the sector’s regional on-line learning resources. This will continue under the auspices of Tyne & Wear Museums. Contact  basic skills resources developed by primary teachers, working alongside learning professionals from six archives in the North East region and  designed for use schools.  These resources offer a fresh and engaging approach to teaching basic skills. This will continue under the auspices of Durham University. Contact DiSCS provides an online directory of information technology (IT) and digital services suppliers to work with the cultural and heritage sector. This site has transferred and is managed by The Collections Trust The regional local studies site for archives and record offices, libraries, museums, archaeology services, the region’s universities and commercial organisations.

Additionally, community groups have created one hundred local history projects. This will continue. The domain name is now owned by Newcastle City Council. The site is managed by Newcastle City Library Services. Contact Kath Cassidy The site for oral history in the North East of England. Support for individuals and organisations undertaking oral history projects, to provide focus and support and a forum for the sharing of ideas and experience. This site is closed.

I think this demonstrates some good practices of what organisations which have set up or commissioned Web sites should do if they are forced to close, either due to changes in Government funding and policies (as is the case with the MLA Regional Agencies).

We can see that the Web site address and a brief summary of its purpose is provided, details of when the site ceases operation, contact details and, in a couple of cases, details of how the service is being continued by other organisations.

I know the implications of the demise of our organisation on the Web services we are providing isn’t something that we like to think about. But in a personal capacity once we reach a certain age and become aware of our resoponsibilities to others we due ten to make plans for what happens after we die, perhaps by making a will. So shouldn’t our organisations be making similar plans in case the oprganisation ceases to exist. And at a time of the credit crunch this is even more important than it used to be.

Library Partnership Preserves End-of-Term Government Web Sites

The news that a Library Partnership Preserves End-of-Term Government Web Sites was announced in August 2008 (and it’s about the end of the George W Bush’s term of office). However I think it’s worth drawing attention to the article for those with an interest in the preservation of Web sites. One thing that caught my eye was the comment that:

the Internet Archive will undertake a comprehensive crawl of the .gov domain.

The article concluded with a summary of the role of the Internet Archive:

The Internet Archive is a high-tech nonprofit, founded in 1996 by Brewster Kahle as an “Internet library” to provide universal and permanent access to digital information for educators, researchers, historians, and the general public. The Internet Archive captures, stores and provides access to born-digital and digitized content, and leads the development of Heritrix, the open-source archival web crawler, used to facilitate the collection of web data for this project.

What role might the Internet Archive have in the UK, I wonder?

JISC PoWR Presentation at iPRES 2008 Conference

As my colleague Marieke Guy commented recently I presented a paper on “Preservation of Web Resources: The JISC PoWR Project” at the iPRES 2008 conference on Monday 29 September 2008 which described the work of the JISC PoWR project. The iPRES 2008 conference, incidentally, was featured in an article “In praise of … preserving digital memories” published in The Guardian Editorial page yesterday (1 October 2008). The article stated that “If all goes well, we will have the capacity to preserve as many of our memories, personal and national, as we want“. So it was very pleasing to present the work of the JISC PoWR project, which explored ways in which memories held on Web sites can be selected and preserved.

The slides of the talk (in which I focus primarily on preservation within a Web 2.0 environment) are now available and are embedded below.

There is also a video recording of the talk available (although I haven’t yet been able to upload the video to Google Video to allow it to be embedded in other Web pages, I’m afraid).

I should also add that Chris Rusbridge provided a comprehensive report on the conference. I was pleased to read Chris’s comments on my talk which he described as “a very entertaining talk, and well worth looking up“. He went on to describe me as “not a preservationist, but is a full-blown technogeek discussing the roles of the latest Web 2.0 technologies on his blog, in his role as UK Web Focus“. And this technogeek was particularly pleased to read that the JISC PoWR “project achieved a strong level of interaction through its several workshops“.

Auricle: The Case Of The Disappearing E-learning Blog

The Auricle E-Learning Blog

The e-learning team at the University of Bath was one of the early adopters of blog technologies to provide a forum for reflecting on e-learning in a Web content.   The blog was set up by Derek Morrison when he was head of the e-learning unit. Derek had an interest in exploring the potential of new technologies, with one example of this being the series of podcast interviews he recording and made available on the blog back in 2005.  This included an interview with John Dale about the innovative blogging service developed at the University of Warwick (the first large scale student blogging service in the UK)  and, perhaps not as noteworthy, an interview with me on my reflections of the WWW 2005 conference.

The name of the e-learning team’s blog was Auricle, which has an advantage of being a very Google-friendly name, and a Google search for “Auricle Bath” finds links to the blog itself and various page which refer to the blog. Unfortunately it seems that the blog no longer exists – following a link to the blog’s home page gets a 404 error message:

The web address was not found. It may have moved, or it may no longer be available.

How unfortunate – all that potentially valuable historical content giving views on the potential of the Web (including technologies such as blogs and podcasts) to enhance the quality of the student’s learning experiences now no longer available.  And how should the University of Bath feel about this loss of its intellectual endeavours and the role that the University had in being one of the early adopters of blogs by an e-learning team.

Why Did The Blog Disappear?

The URL for the Auricle blog provides an indication of some of the reasons for the disappearance of the blog: dacs refers to the Division of Access and Continuing Studies and cdntl to the Centre for the Development of New Technologies in Learning – but neither of these departments still exists.  Following staff departures and organisational changes, support for learning at the University of now provided by the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Office (LTEO)  with the e-Learning Team having responsibility for managing and supporting e-learning developments.

In addition to these organisational changes, the pMachine part of the blog’s domain name refers to the pMachine blog engine and morriblog clearly refers to  Derek Morrison, who left the University a number of years ago to support the HE Academy’s Pathfinder programme.

It is perhaps not surprising that following such changes and the influx of a large number of new staff in the e-Learning Team that the Auricle blog got lost somewhere along the way!

Can We Retrieve Any Of The Resources?

Is it possible to retrieve any of the blog posts and related resources? Is it possible to obtain any details about the blog, such as when it was launched, the number of posts published during its lifetime, how popular it was and, perhaps, the impact that the blog may have had?

Since the blog was public, as opposed to a blog which was restricted to members of the University of Bath, the contents of the blog have been indexed by Google. And using a combination of search terms, such as “Auricle Bath”, it is also possible to discover Web resources which cite the Auricle blog. This helped me to find a blog post on Stephen Downes’s blog on The Weblog as the Model for a New Type of Virtual Learning Environment? in which Stephen (a high profile Canadian e-learning guru)  clearly acknowledged the importance of Derek Morrison’s views on the potential of the blog as providing “the basis for a distributed, not centralised, information and learning object system“:

The author of Auricle nails it. “In the weblog, however, the announcements, articles, stories are the raison d’etre’ so much so that, not satisfied to present articles from one source, the weblog has the temerity, due to the adoption of the RSS standard, to receive syndicated stories from other sources and, in turn, offer it’s own portfolio of articles for use by others. For example, a blog supporting a programme or module could be the vehicle by which faculty post date and time-stamped short articles relevant to the course but which also link to related, but distributed, learning resources which are presented via RSS feeds. Such feeds can be static or dynamic so that updated RSS formatted information will be reflected in whatever application is displaying it, e.g. a la Auricle’s RSS Dispenser. Here then is the basis for a distributed, not centralised, information and learning object system.” (My emphasis) Derek Morrison, Auricle, February 27, 2004.

And the date of Stephen’s post (27 February 2004) indicates that the Auricle blog was available in early 2004.

With some further use of Google I discover that the Auricle podcast resources are still available on the University of Bath Web site – and I’m pleased that the MP3 file of my interview has not been lost. The RSS file also contains the publication dates, which show that the podcasts were published during 2005. We seem to have unearthed some further information about the Auricle blog.

Rediscovering The Blog!

It required a Google search for “Auricle Morrison” for me to discover that the Auricle blog is alive and well! It is now hosted at (much better than the original URI!).  And as well as providing access to the original posts (although with a new look-and-feel, as the blog is now based on the WordPress blog software)  the blog is still active, with Derek using the blog to support his Pathfinder work at the HE Academy. As Chris Rusbridge pointed out on a post on “Digital Preservation” term considered harmful?” on the Digital Curation blog “phrases like “long term accessibility” or “usability over time” are better than the process-oriented phrase “digital preservation“. And here’s an example of how the Auricle blog has been preserved by continuing to still be used and accessible to its user community.

The Lessons

What are the implications of this case study for the wider community? And what lessons can be learnt?

We should be aware of the dangers of associating services with departmental names and specific technologies. This has been well documented, including Tim Berners-Lee’s article on “Cool URIs Don’t Change!” – although this is clearly easy to say, but more difficult to implement in practice.

I feel there is also a need for departments to audit their networked services and to document their policies regarding the sustainability of such services.  And such documented policies should be examined when departments change their names or there are significant changes in personnel.

And this case study provides an interesting example of a service which has been driven by an individual – Derek Morrison. As Derek clearly felt ownership to the Auricle blog, he was motivated to migrate the content of the blog to a new platform and, at a later date, to continue to contribute to the blog, although not as frequently as previously.  This probably saves the e-Learning Team at Bath from having to retrieve backup copies of the blog posts and provide an archived copy of the resource.  But who owns the blog?  And what would have happened if there had been an ownership dispute over the blog and the name of the blog?  These are questions which will be relevant to many academics and support who make use of blogs to support their professional activities – including myself and my UK Web Focus blog. But as the contents of my blog have a Creative Commons licence I would hope that there will minimise any legal barriers to the contents of my blog being migrated to a new environment should circumstances change.

Preservation Experts Suggest That The Term “Digital Preservation” Is Harmful

A recent post entitled “Digital Preservation” term considered harmful?” on the Digital Curation blog begins with the words:

Over the past few weeks I have become acutely aware that the term “digital preservation” may be becoming a problem.

Not quite what one might expect from Chris Rusbridge, director of the Digital Curation Centre (DCC)! And James Currall, who recently gave a plenary talk on Web site preservation issues at UKOLN’s IWMW 2008 event, appears to have been responsible for such heresy with his view that:

The digital preservation community has become very good at talking to itself and convincing ‘paid-up’ members of the value of preserving digital information, but the language used and the way that the discourse is constructed is unlikely to make much impact on either decision-makers or the creators of the digital information (academics, administrators, etc.).

But I have to say that I think that these views reflect the experiences we have had in the JISC PoWR project. Indeed Alison Wildish was quite open about this in her presentation at the first JISC PoWR workshop.

While we have to use “digital preservation” in appropriate contexts, including technical and other in-house discussions, and digital curation is appropriate in other contexts, terms that reflect the outcomes are more persuasive. The outcome of successful digital preservation is that digital resources remain accessible and usable over the long term.

and concludes by arguing that:

… outcome-related phrases like “long term accessibility” or “usability over time” are better than the process-oriented phrase “digital preservation”.

Amen to that! This reflects my views on the need to take a user-focussed approach to Web site development, with long term accessibility and usability simply mean that we need to think about the users in the future and not just those we have today.  And perhaps that’s the approach we have to take in order to ‘sell’ preservation to somewhat sceptical Web developers.

Should our slogan be “Web preservation is dead! Long live long term accessibility! Long live usability over time!” I wonder?

RSS Feeds Of Changes To Web Pages

Lorcan Dempsey picked up on the work of the JISC PoWR project in a blog post entitled The institutional record and web archiving. Lorcan described the presentation given at the first JISC PoWR workshop by Alison Wildish and Lizzie Richmond in which they described the changes to the University of Bath printed prospectus over the lifetime of the University of Bath.  Lorcan drew parallels between this print publication and the digital environment:

The University would always have kept the print manifestation; what now to do with the web manifestation? One of the interesting changes they note over this time is the ‘rise of the logo’, and tracing changes in how the institution presents itself over time is also interesting.

In a response to Lorcan’s post Tony Hirst referenced a blog post by Michael Nolan on the Edge Hill Web Services team blog in which Michael pointed out “one [example of interesting use of RSS] that caught my eye was the University of Warwick’s recent changes feed which allows you to subscribe to find out when the homepage changes. Better still, they have this for every page in their CMS.

An example of this can be seen for the Research page on the University of Warck Web site. Although not nornmally visibile to most end users who visit this page, there is a link to an RSS feed of recent changes to the page. Using tools such as the Greasemonkey RSS Panel (available for Firefox) you can view the changes, as shown below.

News feed of change on a page on the University of Warwick Web site 

In his comment on Lorcan’s blog Tony Hirst went on to suggest that “A change feed, like on a wiki, could be one way (maybe) of facilitating 1st, 2nd or 3rd party web page archiving?“. I think Tony might be right. And maybe we are seeing the University of Warwick pioneering this approach, as the feed of recent changes seems to be provided by their in-house Sitebuilder 2 software, “the University’s web publishing tool“.

Perhaps when institutions are next procuring a CMS system they should be asking if vendors provide RSS feeds of changes to pages.  

JISC PoWR Workshop 2: Preservation and Web 2.0

The second JISC PoWR workshop was held on 23rd July 2008 as part of UKOLN’s annual institutional Web management workshop, IWMW 2008.

This workshop provided an opportunity to review the outcomes of the first workshop, in which members of the JISC PoWR team and the 30+ participants identified some of the challenges to be faced in preserving content held on institutional Web services and explored some of the ways in which these challenges can be addressed. The slides for this review are available on Slideshare and are embedded below.

The main focus of the second workshop, however, was to look at the additional challenges which need to be addressed in a Web 2.0 context, when the content may be more dynamic, hosted by third party services and created by a wide range of users.

A PowerPoint presentation was used to initiate discussions based on a number of scenarios including use of blogs, wikis, Twitter, communications tools, social networks, ‘amplified events’ and use of third party repository services such as Slideshare – which is appropriate as this presentation is itself available on Slideshare and is embedded below.

This presentation doesn’t have any answers to these challenges – it was intended to initiate the debate at the workshop. Some of the approaches which may be relevant to the various scenarios have already been discussed on this blog including use of wikis, student blogs, use of Slideshare, instant messaging and Twitter and the wider set of discussions which took place at the workshop will feed into the final JISC PoWR handbook.

It is worth noting that this presentation was spotlighted on the Slideshare home page. This has helped to increase the visibility of the work of the JISC PoWR project: a week after the presentation hed been given there had been 713 views of the slides. It should also be noted that other Slideshare users had assigned various tags to the presentation (including data-portability, digital-preservation, sioc and preservation). As can be seen if you follow these links, we are beginning to see use of such social Web technologuies which can help users to discover related resources of interest to the digital preservation community.  This, to me, is a good example of the potential benefits which Web 2.0 can provide to those with n interest in the presevation of Web resources.

The History of Your Institution’s Web Site

A recent blog post by Lorcan Dempsey on “The institutional web presence again” provided a link to a page on “the history of U.Va. on the web” which provides details of 14 year’s history for the University of Virginia’s Web site from 1994-2008.

The page provides details of the Web usage statistics in the early years, with screen images shown of major changes to the home page from 1997 (unfortunately no screen images are available for the first three years of the service).

Information is provided on the people and groups responsible for the design, the changes which were made as new technologies became available, significant additional content that was added and details of awards which the site won.

This is an approach which I feel all institutions should consider taking.  And let’s start recording the history of those early years quickly, before the first generation of institutional Web managers start to retire, leave or forget the details of the institution’s Web history.

University of Virginia Web Site History

Preservation And Instant Messaging


The Web 2.0 environment has a strong emphasis on communications between individuals and not just one-way publishing. This pattern of usage places additional challenges for institutions wishing to ensure that records are kept of the dialogue which takes place. And these challenges may well need to be addressed within the context of policies on the preservation of Web resources as increasingly digital communications technologies will have Web interfaces.

We will be publishing a series of posts looking at different aspects of Web 2.0. In this initial post we will provide a brief case study on use of instant messaging to support communications between two institutions. The case study will attempt to draw out some of the general policy issues which should be applicable more widely.

Use of IM for the QA Focus Project

This example describes the approaches taken to use of instant messaging to support communications between the project partners for the JISC-funded QA Focus project which was launched in January 2002. The project partners were UKOLN (based at the University of Bath) and, initially, ILRT, University of Bristol. However after the end of the first year of the project ILRT withdrew form the project and were replaced by AHDS, who were based in London.

In order to minimise the amount of travel and to help to provide closely integrated working across the project partners it was agreed to make use of instant messaging technologies. As well as enabling the team members to have speedy contact with each other it was also recognised that official project meetings could be held using the technology. It was appreciated that in this context there was a need to have a slightly formal protocol for managing the meetings, to compensate for the limitations of online meetings. And in addition to the best practices for managing the online meetings it was also agreed that a record of the transcript would be kept, and that this record would be copied across to the Intranet along with other formal documents.

After AHDS replaced by ILRT as project partners we decided to change our IM client from Yahoo Messenger to MSN Messenger. It was either during this change of IM tools or whilst making use of another IM client (I can’t recollect the exact details) that we noticed that different IM applications work in slightly different ways. This includes whether a transcript of dialogue is kept automatically and whether new participants to a group chat will see only new discussions or discussions which have taken place previously (which has the potential to cause embarrassments at the least).

The experiences we gained in use of IM led the project partners to develop a policy on use of IM (which covered issues such as the possible dangers of interruptions, as well as keeping records of formal meetings held on IM). The policy also clarified use of IM in an informal context, with their being no guarantee that records would be kept.

The policy stated that:

  • IM software may be used for formal scheduled meetings. In such cases standard conventions for running meetings should be used. For example an agenda should be produced, actions clearly defined, changes of topics flagged and a record of the meeting kept.
  • IM software may be used for direct communications between individual team members. For example it may be used for working on particular tasks, to clarify issues when working on collaborative tasks and to support team working. IM may be particularly suited for short term tasks for which no archive is needed and other team members need not be involved – for example, arranging a meeting place.
  • Highly confidential information will not be sent using IM, due to the lack of strong encryption.

General Issues

The general issues arising from this case study include:

  • The need to ensure that the users of the IM technologies and those involved in developing policies related to its use have a good understanding of how the technologies work together with an understanding of the differences between different IM systems.
  • The need for simple documented policy statements

Preservation and Slideshare

Slideshare is a popular externally hosted Web 2.0 service for providing access to presentations. And as I’ve described on the UK Web Focus blog, there is evidence to demonstrate its impact in maximising awareness of presentations – and this might include both awareness of research activities, as described in my post, but also marketing activities.

But what about the risks associated in making use of a third party service in this way? What will happen if, for example, the Slideshare’s business model is flawed and the company goes bankrupt? Rather than making use of a Web 2.0 service shouldn’t we be providing Slideshare’s functionality in-house?

I feel this is the wrong response: it would be similar to saying that we should not allow third party organisations to manage our savings – but we all have bank accounts. And, although we know from recent experiences in the UK that there can be risks when using banks, we don’t shut down our accounts when we became aware if incidents such as Northern Rock financial difficulties. Rather we assess the risks and then manage the risks (in the case of savings, this might be to limit one’s saving to a maximum of £35,000 with any single bank, as this amount is guaranteed by the Government).

In the case of Slideshare an in-house solution would not only be costly to replicate its functionality, but it would also be unlikely to provide the impact and popularity which Slideshare has.

The challenge then is to assess possible risks and to explore mechanisms for managing such risks. The approach I take is to look at the popularity of the service and its user community (an approach, incidentally, which has also been recommended when selecting open source software). The Techcrunch service can be useful if providing information on the financial background to many Web 2.0 companies and its information on Slideshare seems reassuring, with a post in May 2008 described how SlideShare had Secured $3M for Embeddable Presentations.

The risk management approach I have taken is to store a managed master copy of the slides on the UKOLN Web site and ensure that links to this resource are provided on Slideshare.  As can be seen from the image,  the URL is included  on the title slide and in the accompanying metadata. In addition the URL is also included in the footer of the hard copy printouts. I also provide a Creative Commons licence for the resource, which seeks to avoid any legal barriers to future curation of the resource and allow the resource to be downloaded from the Slideshare site.

Metadata provided on the Slideshare service

This approach aims to ensure that the master resource is kept at a stable managed location, allows users to make a copy of the resource (if, for example, the Slideshare service suffers from performance or reliability problems) and allows uses to bookmark or cite the managed master version of the file.

Student Blogs

How should an institution go about providing a blogging service for its students? The traditional approach which has been taken to the provision of an IT service for members of an institution has been to evaluate the range of products and select a solution which satisfies the user requirements, taking into account the resource and support implications.

In a Web 2.0 environment, however, other options become available. Rather than installing software locally, services which are available on the network can be used – and blogging services such as WordPress and Blogger are very popular blog hosting services.

What are the preservation aspects associated with the provision of a student blogging service? One might feel that the locally-installed application must be preferable, since management of the software and data is under the control of the institution. But what happens when students leave the institution? The normal policy in many institutions has been to delete student accounts and their data shortly after they leave. But is this desirable from the student’s perspective?  And what if they wish their data – their blog posts – to still be available after they leave the institution?

This is starting to happen, with the University of Warwick, which provided the first large-scale student blogging service a number of years ago. And as I wrote about a year ago, we are starting to see the first generation of student blog enthusiasts asking these questions. My post linked to a blog post hosted at the University of Warwick from a student (Jo Casey) who asked:

In the middle of August I will be leaving Warwick (to be the new Corporate Communications Manager at the Open University). … But, given that I will have to migrate my blog, where is the best place to go?“.

Unfortunately Jo’s blog was been deleted after she left the University – I was fortunate to have captured her question on my blog.

In light of this particular example from an institution which pioneered use of students blogs, my question would be “Wouldn’t institutions be advised to recommend the use of mature hosted blogging services for members of the institution – such as students – who will normally only be at the institution for a short period?

Would this be a desirable approach? What are the disadvantages? And could such problems be addressed?

Preservation Of Your Tweets

How should you go about preserving your Twitter posts, which are sometimes referred to as tweets. You may feel this is a strange question, or perhaps even an incomprehensible one.  For those who may not be familiar with Twitter, this is a microblogging application which can be used to create a brief (up to 140 characters) blog post. Although initially used by individuals to summarise how they are feeling or what they are thinking the ways in which the service is being used has evolved: in some cases it is used as a general chat facility, and so has some parallels with an instant messaging environment (with the added advantage that tweets can be delivered free-of-charge to mobile phones). Of particular relevance to this blog, is the way in which institutions are beginning to explore Twitter’s potential from an institutional context.

On a recent post on the UK Web Focus blog I described how the Open University has set up an institutional Twitter account. And a number of responses to the posts described similar institutional Twitter accounts for Edge Hill University (illustrated), Birmingham City University, Coventry University and Aston University. We can also expect departments to follow the example of the School of Law at the University of Sheffield  which is using Twitter to syndicates its Law School News blog.

Edge Hill University Twitter Account

Many fans of Twitter may feel that issues of preservation shouldn’t intrude in what is normally used as a individual productivity and social tool. However if is often the case that new technologies which may have initially been provided for individual use and for social purposes, quickly seem to be used by early adopters in teaching and learning and research contexts. And soon afterwards institutions which are willing to explore the potential of such emerging technologies to support the needs of the institution will set up Twitter accounts, areas on YouTube, iTunes, etc. as, for example, the Open University has done.

Hence the need, I would argue, for institutions to ensure that they have considered the preservation and management implications of their tweets, even if the institutions feels that it would be inappropriate to have heavyweight policies on personal use of micro-blogging technologies. But perhaps before we establish the institutional policies we need to think about the different ways in which such micro-blogging applications may be used and also what the potential risks may be. 

Any thoughts? 

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.

Getting Institutional Buy-in For Web Site Preservation

One of the risks we identified when we wrote the bid for the JISC PoWR project was that those involved in providing institutional Web service would not be interested in issues related to preservation. Surely not, you may feel if you’re a records manager. And if you are involved in providing institutional Web services you may be reluctant to confess to being less than fully committed to an area which does seem worthy.  But, to be honest, Web managers may not have a particularly strong interest in this topic. And if this is the case, it will be difficult to persuade them of the need to invest resources in this area and to gain the necessary commitment from senior managers and policy makers. Without these issues being addressed it seems to me that we’re unlikely to make any significant changes to instituional approachs to Web site preservation.

So I was very pleased to read Alison’s Wildish’s blog post enitled “Web Preservation: should we make the time?“. In this post Alison (head of Web Services at the University of Bath) described the case study which she and Lizzie Richard (Archivist, Records Manager and FOI Coordinator at the University of Bath) presesented at the first JISC PoWR workshop. Alison described how:

Neither of us felt web preservation was something we had expertise in nor the time (and for me the inclination) to fully explore this. Web preservation was something we could see as being useful (in the future) but I think we both felt it wasn’t a priority.

The good news is that the discussions Alison and Lizzie had after I introduced them to each other and invited them to participate in the JISC PoWR projects have helped them to further their understanding of Web site preservation:

Simply discussing preservation (from both sides of the fence) taught us a lot. We discovered the risks involved in simply side-lining it; the potential gap in University history and the benefits of embedding preservation into our digital strategy.

And now that Alison and Lizzie are better aware of the need to have a policy of Web site preservation they are  in a position to start working on one:

So is it something we should make time for? Yes I believe it is.

The JISC PoWR project is starting to deliver its goals of engaging the key stakeholders, making them better aware of the challenges in preserving Web sites but also willing to address those challenges 🙂

And I’m please to say that Alison has made the slides used at the workshop available on Slideshare – well worth viewing, especially if you are a records manager who is “a paper person [and] have enough trouble trying to preserve hard copy records without having to worry about the web … [who] can see the value in theory, but in practice it’s too huge [and] guess it might be a good idea, but no one much cares what I think I am interested though… ” or a Web person who has the view that “In all honesty it isn’t interesting to me… We struggle to keep the site current – never mind thinking Web Specialist about preserving the old stuff I am future watching… need to know what to bring in not how to keep hold of the past Why is it something I should think about now? I’m not really that interested“. 

Collective Memory For Our Web Sites

I recently posted an article about the history of the University of Bath home page which included a link to a display of versions of the home page, based on data taken from the Internet Archive from 1997-2007.

Andy Powell, a former colleague of mine who used to work at the University of Bath, posted a Twitter message in response to my post in which he said:

@briankelly all pages prior to were mine – that’s what web design was like back then! – but all records now lost

03:56 PM June 18, 2008 from twhirl in reply to briankelly

But although formal records of the decisions made related to the home page (its design, the content, the links and the technologies used) may have been lost (or perhaps not even kept) I do wonder whether it may be possible to document such history based on anecdotal evidence from those who were either direectly involved with the decision-making process or perhaps who observed the results of the decisions.

From the museum’s sector and the experiences of The National Archive (with the public Wiki service) we know that the general public does seem willing to provide anecdotal information on resources such as old photographs.

This approach seems to reflect some of the discussions held at the first JISC PoWR workshop. As described in Ed Pinsent’s summary of the eventthere was a lot of ‘folk memory’ and anecdotal evidence, also sometimes called ‘tacit knowledge’“.

Would it be possible, I wonder, to provide access to images of an institution’s old Web pages and, though use of social networking technologies, encourage members of the institution (and perhaps the wider community) to document their recollections of the Web site?

Preservation and Innovation

In a recent comment on this blog Kevin Ashley makes the point that having an interest in the preservation of Web resources doesn’t mean that one is anti-innovation. As Kevin points out “I see 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.

There’s a real difficulty, though, in applying either of these preservation approaches in a environment of rapid technological development. And within higher education we are likely to see examples of such innovation, whether this is scientific researchers involved in new ways of visualisating scientific data or teaching staff who wish to ensure students gain experiences in use of Social Web technologies.

How are such tensions to be addressed? Should, for example, use of immersive environments such as Second Life be banned until preservation techniques have been developed which will ensure that such complex environments can be preserved? Such a draconian approach is alien to the educational sector’s IT development culture (although such approaches are taken in other areas such as biological and medical research). And as I’ve described in a post on “Is Second Life Accessible?” innovative technologies such as Second Life can bring substantuial benefits to the user community – in this case a user with cerebral palsy who feels that Second Life provides a really useful tool for people who are unable to get around, who have problems of mobility in real life “because you can have friends without having to go out and physically find them“.

The tensions between preservation and innovation perhaps reflect similar tensions between accessibility and innovation, with differing opinions being held by the various interested parties. In the case of Second Life (where we are seeing virtual worlds being continually assembled, developed and then redeveloped) there does seem to be an awareness of the need to preserve such virtual worlds, with the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities having received funding from the Library of Congress’s National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) for a two-year project on Preserving Virtual Worlds. And yet the $590,000 funding for this project, which will not, of course, guarantee that a solution to the problem with be available at the end of the funding, indicates that the preservation of immersive worlds will not be an easy undertaking.

Returning to Kevin’s comment that there is a “distinction [to be] made between preserving an experience and preserving the information which the experience makes available. Both are valid preservation approaches and both achieve different ends. perhaps it is important to focus on these distinctions when we are seeking to preserve our innovative services. Might the video clip of the Second Life experience be the appropriate solution for the pioneers of this technology until the research programmes have devised ways of preserving the much richer and resuable environment? And might not this be an approach which can also be taken for our innovative Web services?

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.