Online Musings of a Public Historian

Posts tagged ‘preservation’

An Ode to Buzzfeed: 3 Reasons Why Buzzfeed Deserves Digital Preservation

Like many members of my generation, I have an online addiction.  In this case, my cyberdrug of choice comes in the form of popular news and entertainment website, Buzzfeed. One of my computer’s top-visited websites, Buzzfeed meets many of my digital needs whether I’m aiming to brush up on current events or simply searching for an engaging diversion to alleviate boredom.  Upon first glance, Buzzfeed’s homepage appears as a jumble of content ranging from the serious to the absurd:


Moving beyond this frenzied appearance, the content presented by Buzzfeed offers visitors an opportunity to simultaneously experience several aspects of contemporary young adult culture. This, coupled with its ranking among the top 50 websites visited in the U.S. makes Buzzfeed, at least in my opinion, a suitable candidate for online archiving by a cultural institution. Using the “listicle” thematic structure for which Buzzfeed articles are notorious, let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why the Buzzfeed website should be digitally archived for future study:

1. It provides an inclusive snapshot of 21st century society.

Where else can you go to catch up on Olympic coverage, find out the latest news storiesand take a quiz determining which Mean Girls character best reflects your personality? A self-described “social news and entertainment company,” Buzzfeed serves as a one-stop shop for all of these and more.  Simply reading through the site’s headings and sub-headings indicates that the posts offered cover a myriad of subjects, ranging from world news to food recipes. As illustrated by the “About” video above, Buzzfeed’s aim is to combine news reporting, advertising, and storytelling into one medium, where users can satisfy curiosity, increase knowledge, and digitally contribute to cultural trends through the creation of their own posts and listicles. This level of interactivity coupled with the site’s diverse content allows Buzzfeed visitors an opportunity for an “inside look” into 21st century American culture. Through browsing the various posts, whether current or housed in the site’s in-house archive, readers can track social changes over time from personalities and events regarded as culturally significant to popular food types or clothing styles. This insight into both nationally (or globally) significant content and that which pertains more to the nuances of the everyday provides a relatively inclusive representation of 21st century life in the United States, making Buzzfeed a site worthy of digital preservation.

2. It’s not going to be popular forever.


Just as former social networking supersite Myspace became slowly eclipsed by the rise of Facebook (which in turn is beginning its slow descent as users flock to other forms of social media, such as Twitter and Instagram), Buzzfeed also faces similar challenges. Competitors, such as rival site EliteDaily (whose homepage is pictured above), use page models and article structures resembling those made popular by Buzzfeed to promote their own content.  While Buzzfeed remains the top site of its kind for the time being, it is inevitable that the fast-paced nature of the web and continued technological advances will eventually produce a new social medium that will ultimately take its place.  With this in mind, it is important that Buzzfeed and its already-archived content be preserved on a larger scale by an institution or organization before this decline occurs.

3. It serves as an example of the ongoing issue of fair use and other questions of “netiquette.”


No website is perfect, and in this new digital era the question of ownership and fair use is murkier than ever. Buzzfeed, like other sites, has run into its own issues of fair use over the years as evidenced by this Gawker article chronicling controversies surrounding the page’s earlier days.  While new management and a re-evaluation of site goals has led to better fair-use practice among Buzzfeed writers and contributors, the accusations regarding content plagiarism from other community-based sites such as Reddit, provide a learning opportunity in terms of the extent of intellectual ownership and the parameters of authority over online content.

Of course, archiving a site operating on real-time (as Buzzfeed does) comes with its challenges.  The top stories featured on the Buzzfeed’s homepage change every few minutes, based on post popularity and visitor traffic.  This means that the page layout and posts themselves would have to be archived as the appearance changes in order to maintain an accurate representation of the site.  As such, an institution or organization (like the Internet Archive, for example)  with the capacity to preserve whole websites and pages in addition to video, audio, image, and text content would most likely be ideal for taking on the Buzzfeed preservation project.

What do you think? Should Buzzfeed be archived? What other sites do you think deserve preservation?

Archiving the Web: A Question of Content

From my understanding of Abbie Grotke’s “Web Archiving at the Library of Congress,” the main idea behind archiving online content is “to reflect the true evolution of society, government, and culture online…[in order to] ensure that a representative sample of the web is preserved.”  While this seems a simple enough notion, the actual implementation of this preservation process carries with it a number of challenges and questions along the way.

The largest of these challenges is the question of what exactly should be preserved in order to fully realize the goal of presenting the changing ideas, values, and beliefs of contemporary society for future study. In some cases, such as Roy Rosenzweig’s case study of the online collection effort following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, the answer is obvious.  Events carrying such heavy global, national, and historic significance clearly require documentation, as do any digital content associated with them.  The question of what sort of content is worthy of preservation is where the proverbial waters tend to get murky.  Functioning as a simultaneously public and personal space, the web serves as a platform for not only “official” responses to such high-profile events (in the form of online newspapers, web pages for government organizations, and the like), but also the reactions of everyday individuals through social media networks, interpersonal messages, and online journals and blogs.

This combination of professional and recreational content offers historians a vast array of material through which can be gathered a well-rounded snapshot of the core ideals, beliefs, and values of contemporary society. As pointed out by Jinfang Niu in “An Overview of Web Archiving,” this snapshot is not limited to what can be considered the “better” aspects of society (“literature, scientific publishing”), but also representative of some of the “worst” (“advertising, pornography”).  Such an array of material ranging from the ephemeral to the long-lasting, from the enlightening to the unsavory form the basis for the challenge of deciding which content to preserve within the digital archiving system.  This initial question spawns further issues, such as those of copyright, ownership, and fair use.

How far should an institution go when it comes to archiving online material? Should a certain type of content take priority for preservation over others (scholarly vs. personal, for example)? If so, does this skew the “well-rounded” snapshot of society that historians are striving to preserve?

Check out some video interviews for Association of Research Libraries’ Code of Practices in Fair Use here. Does this Code of Practices ease some of the challenges faced in web archiving?

Preserving the Digital


Today, the amount of information available online is astonishing.  Social media networks allow anyone who uses them (which, arguably, a significant amount of the population does) to leave a digital record of themselves through online photo albums, sharing internal thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in text posts, and conversations between one another – both public and private.  Research databases such as those offered by JSTOR and the Library of Congress allow users easy access to scholarly articles and primary sources alike, thanks to the transference of physical items, papers, and photographs to a digital medium through scanning and the like.  In fact, one could argue, that this ability to transform the physical into the digital is itself a significant innovation in terms of preserving historic material.

But how do we go about preserving this digital historic material?

In his essay, “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era,” Roy Rosenzweig addresses precisely this question.  Asserting that with the digital boom of recent decades historians have, in a way, fallen victim to the misconception “that we have [reached] a golden age of preservation in which everything of importance was saved,” Rosenzweig highlights the significant absence of any substantial tool or methodology for the preservation of online materials. Urging historians not to take a backseat to the proceedings concerning the development of more advanced digital preservation, Rosenzweig sounds a call to action of sorts for those in the field to take on the “social, economic, legal, and organizational” hazards that come along with digital documents, particularly in issues of authenticity and ownership.

Written in 2003, Rosenzweig’s article is, admittedly, a bit dated.  However, simply looking at the vast changes within the digital world over the course of the past decade serves to reinforce his primary points.  As these rapid technological changes take place, how can a single system of preservation for digital materials be developed and employed? Have we made any progress since the time of Rosenzweig’s writing? What more can we do? How do you think the digital sphere is going to look a decade from now?

As a postscript of sorts, the Bert is Evil website lamented by Rosenzweig for its deletion from the digital world following the 9/11 attacks appears today to be alive and well on the web. Additionally, it seems to now have a sister site, Barby is Bad, chronicling the nefarious deeds of another American children’s icon, the Barbie doll.  While I am unsure if these sites were created by the initial Bert is Evil web designer, I still encourage you to check them out — they are pretty entertaining!