Regardless of the industry in which you work, you’re undoubtedly aware of the importance of maintaining business records. What many institutions forget is the importance of their website as a record in and of itself.
A website may contain photos, program information, history, mission, staff information, blog posts, photo galleries, interviews, data and much more. Organizations often treat websites as a necessary evil to be set up, kept up-to-date and nothing more. However, your website should be as carefully preserved as any other document.
People often take for granted that the information put online will be around eternally—however, due to its ephemeral nature, the information available online today is not guaranteed to be available at any time in the near or distant future.
The general rule of thumb is that an average web page can be predicted to last 100 days, and more than 10% of social media content is lost within the first year of its creation on the web.
A website is preserved by duplicating it as an offline, standalone copy that is accessible even after the copied website has changed or shut down. It becomes a file that can be viewed offline, like a PDF document or an mp3 file.
Why Should We Archive Our Website?
Imagine that your site’s host server crashes, or someone forgets to pay a monthly bill and the site is taken down. If the site is archived, your content is not lost.
An average web page can be predicted to last 100 days. More than 10% of social media content is lost within the first year.
Beyond that scenario, imagine that institution’s presence were to spread over the next decades into other collaborative enterprises. This increases your impact and adds to a rich history you will want to look back on in the years to come. This is especially true when celebrating milestone anniversaries of your organization’s establishment.
Here at The Chicago Community Trust, we have an active web preservation effort in which we archive all of our websites and social media outlets. Our main website is updated frequently, but it is far from our only presence on the web. We also have a presence within the websites of our affiliates, collaboratives and partnerships, in addition to community engagement efforts via numerous social media platforms.
It is important to the Trust’s historical record that these information-rich sites be captured on a regular basis and added to our archive so that in the future, we have a robust record of Trust events, initiatives and projects.
Your organization’s site is important, too. Here are few more reasons to consider archiving your institution’s web presence:
- Content. There is probably information on your organization’s website that is unique to the website. As the site is updated, this content is likely to be lost.
- Branding. As with any event program or brochure, the look and feel of your site is important to capturing an accurate picture of your organization’s mission, values and public image.
- Interaction. In the case of social media and public blogs, capturing reactions and interactions is a useful way of seeing how your audience and stakeholders respond to your work.
- Institutional memory. It is now the norm to change jobs every few years. A preserved website is one component of your organization’s history and business record that remains in place even after staff turnover.
How Do We Get Started?
If you’d like to start a web archiving program for your organization, here are some questions to ask yourself and your colleagues:
- What sites would you like to archive? This will probably include your own site and social media, but possibly also those of collaborative organizations, organizations with similar missions, or press and media outlets on which your organization is mentioned.
- What information is on your website? Is it unique to your website?
- How often are your website and social media outlets updated?
- How much time can you devote to a web archiving effort? (Note: a few hours per month is probably sufficient.)
As you define your web archiving process, here are some of the services and tools available. These vary greatly in cost (some are free) and technical knowledge required.
- Web Recorder
- Or, as a last resort, you might try saving your website as PDF files.
Why archive the web? – from the International Internet Preservation Consortium
Can the Internet be archived? – from The New Yorker
Web Archiving at the Library of Congress – from the Library of Congress