Senior Digital Archivist Chris Fryer explains why it’s important to preserve our digital past.
Have you wondered what Parliament’s website looked like in the past? A web archive does just that. It captures, stores and builds up an archive of content for future research. What you may not know is that UK Parliament has had its own web archive since 2009.
We regularly capture and preserve the content of Parliament websites and social media accounts. This collection of 'snapshots' is known as the UK Parliament Web Archive. By saving it in this way, we preserve our digital history and make this content accessible to everyone in the future.
Why do we have our own archive?
We think it’s important to preserve our digital history, but the web was not designed to be preserved. We all imagine the internet to be timeless, but that’s not true. In fact, it’s fragile.
Website content does not last for long. The average lifespan is about 3 months. Much content we read vanishes faster than that, especially on social media. A web archive preserves and safeguards this material so we can see how our content changes over time.
Is the word 'archive' misleading?
The web archive can easily be confused with other UK Parliament archive collections. Users may want to look at past Committee Papers or the private papers of politicians and search for these collections in the web archive, whereas they need to search archives.parliament.uk
Users can’t interact with an expired page that’s been archived in the same way as live content, although they expect to. This is because of the limitations of web archive technology. An archived web page may not look and work as it did originally because the way it is archived is very different from archiving a physical object or even a PDF. The word ‘archive’ is itself loaded with connotations and using it can confuse users. All this contributes to users struggling to find what they're after.
Is web archiving better than simply taking a screenshot?
The problem with screenshots is that they can be edited. The content can be changed therefore it is less reliable. Facts matter, especially as evidence. Web archives record the entire content of a web page (or most if it). This can be checked to make sure it hasn’t been altered or, if it has, how it has been altered.
The UK Parliament Web Archive provides a valuable service but it isn’t perfect. We're here to help our colleagues in Parliament. By taking regular snapshots of official Parliament websites, we can provide a full and accurate record of Parliament’s activities. Take a look at the current domains included in the web archive.
How to use the archive
- Find a domain you're interested in and click on any date in the timeline to go straight to the captured content.
- Search the web archives using key words. You can also refine searches by filtering results.
There are limitations
We’re all used to Google and other search engines and how easy it is to find stuff, but you cannot search a web archive in the same way. What’s been captured has been indexed and catalogued, but not necessarily in the same way as search engines.
This is because of the scale, granularity, and complexity of web archive data. As a result, users may need to work harder to find what they are looking for. In a way it’s more like a phone book than an archive.
We capture content on social media
We archive a selection of Parliament’s Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr accounts. Only Tweets posted from our official Twitter accounts are captured. We also capture Parliament videos that appear on YouTube.
Could our service be improved?
Absolutely! We are always looking at ways to improve the service. We'd be very interested to hear feedback on your experiences of the web archive. Tell us what you think in our quick survey on the web archive home page. Thank you.