We need to preserve our local, digital, cultural artifacts

As Edmonton continues its climb toward global status, I think it’s important that we consider the digital cultural artifacts that we create along the way. It’s rare that something big happens in Edmonton (or anywhere in the world for that matter) without a website or other online presence of some kind being created. That online presence is important in the weeks and months leading up to an event, but it’s just as important after the fact too. We need to start considering that from the beginning.

Think about big events that Edmonton has hosted in recent years. The 2001 World Championships in Athletics should come to mind. If you do a search for Edmonton 2001, you’ll find:

And linked from the official IAAF website and many other pages that show up in the results, is the the Edmonton 2001 website, at http://www.2001.edmonton.com/. The problem is, that site no longer exists.

What would happen if the IAAF took down the page they are hosting? It doesn’t have to happen on purpose, it could be an unfortunate side effect of a redesign, server relocation, etc. The article at Wikipedia is pretty sparse, containing mainly result information. And the mention on the EEDC site is insignificant. It’s almost as if the event didn’t happen.

Additionally, I’d argue that none of the links that still exist tell the story of Edmonton 2001. The effort that went into it, the many volunteers and organizations that made it happen, the effect it had on the city, etc. I think it’s important that we capture that information, and that we do so online, where it is easily accessible by all.

Another more recent example would be the ICLEI World Congress, held in June 2009. The City of Edmonton has a brief page devoted to the event, but most of the information exists at the ICLEI site. That’s fine, but again we’re relying on someone else for the information, and we’re missing an opportunity to tell our story. The advantage that the ICLEI had over Edmonton 2001 is that many bloggers wrote about the event and many photographers posted photos, and their content will likely continue to exist for quite some time. The new Transforming Edmonton blog will help too, I think.

The idea of digital preservation applies to smaller-scale events too. Try to find an online presence for the 2005 K-Days (now Capital EX), the year the event’s attendance record was set. Or try to find out about the 2008 Fringe festival.

I recognize that there’s costs associated with preserving our online cultural artifacts. Someone has to pay for them, and someone has to maintain them. And if we go that extra step and treat some online presences as legacy projects with updates and other information to tell our story, there’s obviously costs associated with that too. I think the costs would be quite minimal, however, and definitely worth it.

Perhaps this is something for the Edmonton Heritage Council to tackle? Or the Edmonton Historical Board? Or maybe just you and me. Either way, we need to start taking digital preservation more seriously.

6 thoughts on “We need to preserve our local, digital, cultural artifacts

  1. This is definitely something that I’m hoping the Transforming Edmonton Blog can help tackle. It was my original hope that we could have launched the blog during ICLEI. Although it was not, that doesn’t mean that we have lost out on the opportunity to record the stories from that time. Barry Anderson’s post this morning was just one of the first we are doing about the legacy of ICLEI for the City of Edmonton.

    However, this blog is only a small part of the solution to this problem. I agree that there needs to be a more coordinated effort to preserve our City’s cultural history. Personally, I’d like to see the position of the new Historian Laureate to be involved with this, along with the Edmonton Heritage Council and Edmonton City Archives. I’d like to see a project that involves the many residents who might already contribute to the digital record of what is happening in our City through their photographs, blog posts, hobby sites, etc.

    But coordinating a project of this scale is a lot to ask of someone who only receives an honorarium of $5000 a year.

  2. Excellent thoughts. archive.org through its “Wayback Machine” has massively backed up the Internet over the years, but I believe you need to know a url to find a web page. Also I do not know how reliable it is for dynamic web pages. If some of the “lost” web pages are there we should grab them while someone knows how to find them. There is easy to use software that will mirror existing sites.

    The City of Edmonton as part of its Neighbourhood Engagement Process is offering $2,500 matching funds and a bit of coaching by Jim Diers if I understand correctly. Maybe a virtual neighbourhood would count as community in Edmonton these days are not just the people living next door. Actually, I think the concept of virtual neighbourhood would be exciting. The application date is January 15, 2010.

    If there is interest in this I could make a few phone calls/emails and see if something was feasible.

    In addition to Edmonton Heritage Council and Edmonton City Archives perhaps this would interest the Provincial Archives in terms of a prototype. A number of museums are also starting to build digital collections. Would the EPL be interested?

    If each group contributed $2,500 maybe something could be done.

  3. Dale, I think archive.org has a role to play, but as you mentioned it has some limitations. It also doesn’t help with the legacy aspect.

    The concept of a virtual neighbourhood is kind of neat! I’m not sure this is really an issue for Great Neighbourhoods, however.

  4. Internet Archive’s “Archive-it” service (http://www.archive-it.org/) could play a role: it lets you do archive.org-style archiving of sites you select, on a schedule you control, etc. The new Memento project (http://www.mementoweb.org/) is also worth watching: it will let you access old versions of a site (provided they’re available either from the site itself or from some external archive like archive.org) based on standard http content negotiation.

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