The awkward teenage years of the web archive are over. It is now 27 years since Tim Berners-Lee created the web and 20 years since we at Internet Archive set out to systematically archive web content. As the web gains evermore “historicity” (i.e., it’s old and getting older — just like you!), it is increasingly recognized as a valuable historical record of interest to researchers and others working to study it at scale.
Thus, it has been exciting to see — and for us to support and participate in — a number of recent efforts in the scholarly and library/archives communities to hold hackathons and datathons focused on getting web archives into the hands of research and users. The events have served to help build a collaborative framework to encourage more use, more exploration, more tools and services, and more hacking (and similar levels of the sometime-maligned-but-ever-valuable yacking) to support research use of web archives. Get the data to the people!
First, in May, in partnership with the Alexandria Project of L3S at University of Hannover in Germany, we helped sponsor “Exploring the Past of the Web: Alexandria & Archive-It Hackathon” alongside the Web Science 2016 conference. Over 15 researchers came together to analyze almost two dozen subject-based web archives created by institutions using our Archive-It service. Universities, archives, museums, and others contributed web archive collections on topics ranging from the Occupy Movement to Human Rights to Contemporary Women Artists on the Web. Hackathon teams geo-located IP addresses, analyzed sentiments and entities in webpage text, and studied mime type distributions.
Similarly, in June, our friends at Library of Congress hosted the second Archives Unleashed datathon, a follow-on to a previous event held at University of Toronto in March 2016. The fantastic team organizing these two Archives Unleashed hackathons have created an excellent model for bringing together transdisciplinary researchers and librarians/archivists to foster work with web data. In both Archives Unleashed events, attendees formed into self-selecting teams to work together on specific analytical approaches and with specific web archive collections and datasets provided by Library of Congress, Internet Archive, University of Toronto, GWU’s Social Feed Manager, and others. The #hackarchives tweet stream gives some insight into the hacktivities, and the top projects were presented at the Save The Web symposium held at LC’s Kluge Center the day after the event.
Both events show a bright future for expanding new access models, scholarship, and collaborations around building and using web archives. Plus, nobody crashed the wi-fi at any of these events! Yay!
Special thanks go to Altiscale (and Start Smart Labs) and ComputeCanada for providing cluster computing services to support these events. Thanks also go to the multiple funding agencies, including NSF and SSHRC, that provided funding, and to the many co-sponsoring and hosting institutions. Super special thanks go to key organizers, Helge Holzman and Avishek Anand at L3S and Matt Weber, Ian Milligan, and Jimmy Lin at Archives Unleashed, who made these events a rollicking success.
For those interested in participating in a web archives hackathon/datathon, more are in the works, so stay tuned to the usual social media channels. If you are interested in helping host an event, please let us know. Lastly, for those that can’t make an event, but are interested in working with web archives data, check out our Archives Research Services Workshop.
Some web archive analysis tools: