16 June 2004
Infonet 2004 - Issue 3 Volume - 14 pp26-27
The World Wide Web has been around for well over a decade. It has been in a constant state of evolution since Tim Berners Lee first proposed a hypertext system for linking information servers across the globe. The web has become so much more than the sum of its parts.
Many issues have grabbed the ICT headlines over the years, remember the Browser Wars, Information Overload, The Digital Divide? With the rise of blogs, there is regular commentary on the events of the day from people all over the world with a range of different perspectives. These people are recording history as it happens. How will historians of the future deal with the vast documentary treasure that surrounds an event such as that of the 11th of September 2001? Perhaps it's time now to think about the web as a mechanism for recording history. But of course it never stays the same. Web pages change and change is constant. Can the web be any good at recording history if the documents keep changing? There is a way to look back into the web's past. Welcome to web archiving.
The National Library of Australia maintains an archive of Australian web sites and publications called PANDORA. Warwick Cathro, the Assistant Director-General of Information Technology at the National Library of Australia delivered a paper at a Web Archiving Conference in Copenhagen in June 2001 called "Preserving the Present for the Future". He states that "the purpose of PANDORA is to ensure that Australians of the future will be able to access a significant component of todayÂ’s Australian web based information resources."
PANDORA is selective, it doesn't archive everything. A search for VITTA in PANDORA reveals the excellent teacher support and IPM sites at McKinnon Secondary College, but unfortunately not the VITTA site itself. However, the VITTA site has been preserved at The Internet Archive.
We can take a look into VITTA's own web history. As part of VITTA's web development team I have found this research really fascinating. I've been able to reach back into the past and retrieve some of VITTA's digital heritage. The Wayback Machine has allowed us to reach backwards in time ... it's made me feel a bit like an electronic archaeologist. Perhaps this is how the archivists at the BBC feel when they find a rare and long lost TV episode of Doctor Who.
Thanks to The Internet Archive, and backups kept by members of the committee, we have been able to re-create VITTA's past and create our own archive for posterity. You can take a look at these rediscovered websites by visiting http://archive.vitta.org.au/archive.php where we have been dusting off the font tags to bring back these precious relics.
VITTA Web archives
The earliest version of the VITTA website I could find in The Internet Archive had a blue textured background. It was "created by Glenn Pountney with Design Ideas from Simon Wright". The site states that "recent changes to these pages were made using Publisher97" and it was updated on the 23rd April 1997.
The next screenshot in our collection captures the site as it was in 1998. Thanks to Margaret Lawson, who had a backup of this site, we didn't have to recreate it from The Internet Archive. There's also information there from the '96, '97 and '98 conferences which we will eventually add to the conference archive on the current website.
When we step forward to 2001 we learn that the site is maintained by Lisa Bolton. The front page is advertising that all members are welcome to the Annual General Meeting in May, 2001.
At the end of 2001, Creative Contingencies was contracted by VITTA to re-develop the VITTA website, and it looked pretty much like this for the two years until December 2003, when we switched to the current design.
[ Update 27 Nov 2009: This article was originally published in VITTA's Journal Infonet 2004 Issue 3 Volume 14. Just adding a final screenshot, for posterity. This is what the VITTA website looked like before being decommissioned for the new site developed by Internet Vision Technologies. ]
I will leave you with this quote from Brewster Kahle, founder of The Internet Archive, "A lot of history is born digital. This should not be like early television where there is not a record."
- http://www.archive.org/ The Internet Archive is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Access is free to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public.
- http://pandora.nla.gov.au/ the PANDORA website at the National Library.
- http://www.dejavu.org/ web browser emulator: pick a browser, enter an URL and take a step back into web history.
- http://browsers.evolt.org/ evolt.org is collecting and maintaining a browser archive - there's a copy of most browsers for most platforms as well as quite a few rarities.
- http://www.nla.gov.au/nla/staffpaper/2001/cathro3.html Article: "Archiving the Web: The PANDORA Archive at the National Library of Australia."
- http://www.hackvan.com/pub/stig/articles/trusted-systems/0397kahle.html Article: "Preserving the Internet" by Brewster Kahle published in Scientific American.