What does it mean to maintain a web archive (con't)


My comments on archiving my back issues vs. keeping the information accurate struck a chord with many of you. (I thank you as always for the time and effort involved.) Here are two opinions that represent the comments received. First, from Dale Hobart, Manager of Instructional Technology and webmaster for Ferris State University:

I've been thinking about two concerns that you noted in the January 19, 1997 issue of Web Informant #55. You talked about your struggle with archiving your Web site and about identifying the "right" information delivery model. I think that they are closely related.

In my role as Webmaster on a university campus, I have seen the immediacy of the Web and how it changes the process of providing access to information. We recently included a single sentence about an opening for a faculty member in the biology department; this was buried deep in our Web site. Within 24 hours, we received an inquiry from Canada. Likewise, we placed an on-line student application form on our Web site and received our first two applications for admission within 12 hours of activating the page. When I placed some budget information on our intranet, a vice president discovered it and requested that the information be expanded and updated more frequently. As Webmaster I hear from people all over the world with comments about the site, spelling corrections, and questions.

All of these examples speak to the nature of the Web as a medium that provides current information on demand. Although archiving is possible, users/customers/browsers are looking for immediacy.

Your first concern was whether you should keep Web pages current or maintain an historical copy. You had discovered that an old (and out-of-date) page had received frequent visits. You changed the page to make it current and did not keep the old page. This is exactly what must be done; Web pages need to be maintained and updated with timely information. Unlike traditional media where you can't make the old go away, on the Web you can. This ability to replace outdated information with current information reflects the difficulty in identifying the right historical information delivery model.

To date, I don't think that there is a good model for the Web that would arise from the traditional models. You suggested that the model used for books, movies, or radio broadcasts might provide a viable solution. These three methods of mass communication are very limited, as once they are committed to their medium they become static. Rereading a book, watching a movie again, or listening to a recording a second or third time will not change the content of the material. These forms of mass media also deliver the same message to everyone in exactly the same format. The impact of this is to homogenize our society and possibly homogenize the entire world (this may be good or evil and is perhaps worthy of discussion in another issue).

The Web provides us with some twists unavailable in other forms of mass media. The technology is available to provide a different experience for each person accessing it, even if s/he visits the same site. In fact, a second visit to the same site can provide a different experience for the same individual.

And the Web can economically distribute information that is of interest to only a few.

An even more critical aspect of the Web delivery model is the immediacy of the media. I have a difficult time convincing some of the more traditional computer support staff that we should be accessing institutional information through a Web browser. Some of the more traditional staff would prefer to study how we should provide information and thus consume months or years before making information readily accessible.

Thanks Dale for your thoughts. Here is from Hank Mishkoff, who has maintained a diary of setting up his own web server.

Although, as you say, it may be important to keep time-sensitive material up-to-date, I think it's just as important to maintain "historical" information (in web time, that means anything older than two weeks), simply because you never know who will benefit from access to that material. I may have to pack up old books and put them in my attic to make more room on my shelves, and the library may have to copy newspapers to microfiche because the originals are going to fall apart -- but disk space is unlimited (for all practical purposes) and never decays (for most practical purposes), which makes the Web the first medium in which you can publish material that will live forever!

Thanks to all of you. One other note: I forgot to mention that if you do decide to use someone other than AOL for access to your AOL content, you can change your monthly rate from $20 to $10 or even as low as $5. And some of you mentioned that even over the Internet AOL can get bogged down.

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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entire contents copyright 1997 by David Strom, Inc.