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Webrecorder Makes Web Preservation Personal
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Posted On September 6, 2016
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There may be questions raised about the selection and archiving of proprietary information, but this review focuses on the system as it represents a realistic model for self-archiving. 

You begin by registering and signing in to the system. Then paste in a URL, give the file a name, and click record. The system follows you as you search the website and makes note of the pages that you seek (see Figure 1 in the upper-right corner of this article). Resources are loaded only when you choose them—it is this interaction that is saved in Webrecorder.

When you go back into your saved files, Webrecorder uses these bookmarks to help you navigate to the specific information you need (see Figure 2 in the upper-right corner). You can choose whatever file you wish to deposit the content into. You don’t need to click to save; the files are saved continuously as you search. However, when you go back into the system, you can search only those items or pages you selected when you archived the website. You are able to write your own descriptions in a note field for your own records (see Figure 3 in the upper-right corner) or for when you share certain files with others (by copy and pasting the URL within Webrecorder; see Figure 4 in the upper-right corner). Without an account, you can’t permanently save your choices or share them with others.

Go to a stored URL, and your activity on that site leads to the capturing of information by loading a bookmark so you can easily get to that specific material, be it a Google Doc, embedded video, or other content. The system continuously saves your content. The basic search options are timestamp, recording, bookmarks, and URL.

The Challenge of Preservation

New websites pop up all the time—just as some are abandoned or taken down. Today’s companies that claim to be providing ongoing archiving can do so only as long as they remain solvent. Efforts such as the Wayback Machine are laudable, but hopelessly underfunded to capture the majority of websites. And who can tell exactly what will be the most important sites and information in the future?

Libraries have traditionally been concerned with archiving information. Digital preservation has become a major initiative for many organizations and institutions, including the Center for Research Libraries, the Digital Library Federation, the Library of Congress, and the British Library. At the institutional level, this is still complex—filled with copyright, cost, and other issues. However, we all have much to learn from smaller efforts, such as Webrecorder, that are better able to capture the spirit of innovation and sense of possibility than library organizations are today.

A Hopeful Promise

Rhizome has a long history of innovation. In 1999, it established the ArtBase to curate online art; today the collection includes games, interdisciplinary projects, and software. Its preservation work encompasses both the protection of digital art and the updating of codes that have become obsolete. More than a decade ago, Rhizome began a partnership with the New Museum in New York, and it continues to host programs and mount exhibits there.

“[The] Wayback Machine has archived hundreds of billions of web pages. But there’s still a low-grade urgency to save our social media for posterity—and it’s particularly urgent in cases in which social media itself had a profound influence on historic events,” notes Jenna Wortham in The New York Times Magazine. “Social media might one day offer a dazzling, and even overwhelming, array of source material for historians. Such an abundance presents a logistical challenge (the total number of tweets ever written is nearing half a trillion) as well as an ethical one (will people get to opt out of having ephemeral thoughts entered into the historical record?). But this plethora of new media and materials may function as a totally new type of archive: a multidimensional ledger of events that academics, scholars, researchers and the general public can parse to generate a more prismatic recollection of history.”

Historians, and even physicists, are taking another look at our assumptions about history. Whether it is called “connected,” “shared,” or “entangled” history, these discussions are key to our understanding of the importance of maintaining, archiving, and accessing information in the past and today.

Krystal Boehlert writes, “Archiving the ephemeral nature of social media is an exciting frontier to be a part of. As technology moves forward, it is important to find ways to save content, both for nostalgic purposes and for future analysis and study. These tools, mapping interactives and web archiving are useful to the Instagram community in understanding the impact one social media platform has on their lives. It is also useful to see how the community as a whole has changed over time.” Webrecorder is giving each of us the chance to experiment on the values that we place on information, for today and for the future. It couldn’t have come at a better time.


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Nancy K. Herther is American studies, anthropology, Asian American studies, and sociology librarian at the University of Minnesota Libraries, Twin Cities campus.

Email Nancy K. Herther

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