Preserving Digital Art, from Photography Blogs to Memes

As I’ve mentioned in class, I work in digitization, which means that much of my context for digital libraries comes from transforming physical objects into digital images. I have thought very little about approaching digital preservation and digital libraries from a born-digital perspective. For some reason the YouTube video we watched in this last portion of class on preserving digital art really struck me in a way that other conversations about preserving born-digital materials haven’t (Google, 2017).

What got me started was the fact that this video was published by Google–I began wondering how their Google doodles commemorating famous people and holidays are being preserved. This led me to the Doodles Archive; it stretches back almost ten years now, since the Doodles started in 2009, and is a lovely website to explore this new form of digital art.

But Google is a massive company with the resources to undertake a project like this. What about independent musicians, writers, and artists who rely on much smaller funds and time to keep their work accessible online? Blogging sites are still going strong as writing platforms, despite constant predictions of their demise. Blogs give voices and communities to people who are otherwise left out of “official” conversations, and their perspectives–from cooking to travel to parenting to art to reporting from war zones–are valuable as historical and cultural context. What happens when bloggers take their sites down, as most eventually do? There’s the Wayback Machine, of course, but unless a blog gets huge amounts of traffic, we’re lucky to get more than a few snapshots of it preserved. (Fun fact: my old Tumblr blog has four snapshots on the Wayback Machine.)

I discovered a project sponsored by the EU called BlogForever that ran from 2011-2013 and was attempting to harvest and preserve blog content from around the internet, but it has since shut down and I was unable to find any post-project analysis or publications (“About BlogForever”, n.d.). My curiosity is piqued–I would love to know if the project developers felt it was a success and a project worth pursuing. (I’m guessing, since there appears to be nothing published about it since 2013, that the answer is no–or at least that the project funders thought so.) Are there other projects working to preserve blog content for future generations? How are they doing it?

I kept looking for other projects documenting born-digital art and, finding inspiration in the comments section on the digital art YouTube video (I know, I know), decided to see if there were any digital preservation projects focusing on memes. I quickly discovered the Library of Congress launched the Web Cultures and Webcomics Web Archives in 2017 (Blakemore, 2017; Library of Congress, 2017). The Web Cultures collection is part of the American Folklife Center and aims to document digital cultures and vernaculars, archiving websites like Urban Dictionary, the Internet Meme Database, and the Giphy gif database. The Webcomics collection focuses on–well–webcomics from all over the internet, highlighting popular, long-running comics like XKCD and Hyperbole and a Half, as well as works by artists and about subjects not well-represented in traditional print comics.

Both of these digital archives give some useful metadata on the history and content of the websites, and they appear to use the same technology as the Wayback Machine to archive each website. Exploring each collection, however, I wondered how much value they were offering beyond a place to store snapshots of each website permanently. Are they adding any context? What other tools could these archives, and similar projects, use to analyze and explore the content they are preserving? Each collection currently only has thirty to forty websites archived, but the internet is infinitely bigger than that–what about the rest of it?

These are tough questions to grapple with. But it’s easy to forget how new the internet is, and how much newer digital preservation is. We’re still in the early stages. As we continue to ask questions, make mistakes, and move forward, we will keep making progress toward better preservation of all forms of digital art.


References

About BlogForever. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://blogforever.eu/about-blogforever/

Blakemore, E. (2017, June 15). Why the Library of Congress thinks your favorite meme is worth preserving. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/library-of-congress-meme-preserve-180963705/

Google. (2017, May 30). Preserving digital art: How will it survive? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkSG7XaKoAs&feature=youtu.be

Library of Congress. (2017, June 13). Webcomics and Web Cultures Archives now on loc.gov [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/item/prn-17-087/webcomics-and-web-cultures-archives-now-on-loc-gov/2017-06-13/

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