I have enjoyed reading the recent blogs of my colleagues on the subject of the UK Government Web Archive and its evolution since the early days of UK Government on the web. I’d like to continue to the theme of evolution and take a look back at how far we’ve come in recent years.
It isn’t only archivists who were once unsure of the long-term value of websites as records.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the web was regarded as largely ephemeral by many in government. Documents could and would disappear as websites were reorganised or closed down altogether and the phenomenon of ‘link rot’ and that rather frustrating ‘404 Page Not Found’ message could be a common experience when searching for documents or attempting to access bookmarked pages.
Colleagues in the House of Commons Library regularly encountered this problem when searching for information for ministers, with the result that those ministers challenged government to resolve this issue.
And so, in 2007, The National Archives began a campaign to raise awareness of the problem with government web teams and records managers, providing a set of simple tools to enable government departments to take action. 1
The results have surpassed our expectations.
Around 20 government departments had successfully implemented the redirection tool prior to the General Election of 2010 with the consequence that when large tracts of the government web estate were restructured in the days, weeks and months following the change of administration, users still interested in accessing content now no longer available on government websites were automatically redirected to the UK Government Web Archive. 2
Our traffic statistics significantly increased around this time, and have been growing steadily ever since. 3 Interestingly, these days we can see that redirected traffic only makes up around one third of requests for material in our web archive. 4 But redirection from government websites was instrumental in driving up our visitor numbers overall.
Nowadays it is much more common to see our traffic coming from search engine referrals, making the UK Government Web Archive an integral part of the living World Wide Web, rather than a mere repository of no-longer-topical documents.
Today the Web Archive is linked to from all manner of websites – from .gov.uk to the Guardian and the BBC websites demonstrating the value that this digital collection has brought to our visitors in a very short space of time. 5 I hope that 5 years from now the Web Archive will continue to surpass our expectations in ways we can barely imagine at the present time.
- 1. Full guidance can be found here www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/information-management/policies/web-continuity.htm ^
- 2. Our traffic statistics went from 22 million hits in the month of April 2010, to 79 million hits in May 2010, to 103 million in June 2010 and 143 million in July 2010. ^
- 3. Traffic started off at under 1 million hits in the month of January 2009 and have reached highs of 163 million hits per month. ^
- 4. In March 2012 we had 83 million referred requests and 41 million requests which were automatically redirected from other government websites. ^
- 5. A quick survey of references to web.archive.nationalarchives.gov.uk on the site TheyWorkForYou.com revealed 140 pages on that site that had at least one link to the UK Government Web Archive. Wikipedia.org contains 2620 references to the web archive, and a survey of the Guardian and BBC websites reveals that the web archive is linked to 53 and 75 times, respectively. ^