Preserving UK Government history for 25 years

On 4 November 2021, the UK Government Web Archive (UKGWA) celebrates its 25th anniversary. It is a remarkable moment, especially when we look back and see how much we have achieved in capturing and preserving the UK Government’s presence on the internet.

Over two decades the internet has grown exponentially, and websites have evolved from simple static destinations to interactive places where interactions between people and organisations happen in real-time. The UK Government’s use of the web is extensive: websites present information, act as document stores, and provide dynamic transactional services.

Often, information published on the web is the only place where it is available. There is a tension between providing up-to-date information and ensuring that published information remains available in its original context for future reference; this is where the UKGWA steps in.

Maintaining and preserving the government web estate and its interlinking network of resources was the driver for the original Web Continuity Initiative. The National Archives’ Web Archiving team began by capturing 50 websites in 2003, but the collection dates from 1996 when we received copies of UK Government websites from the Internet Archive. Since then, we have been expanding our collection and increasing our capacity to handle the growing volume and complexity of websites over time.

The numbers are impressive: there are around 6,400 websites in our collection, and it has over 644 social media accounts across YouTube, Twitter and Flickr, with over 1.9 million posts archived. Around 63% of pages we direct to on our A-Z list are no longer available on the live internet. If the UKGWA wasn’t there, much of the Government’s online content since 1996 would probably have been lost and would be unavailable to the public.

The UKGWA is a comprehensive, cloud-based, and freely accessible archive for everyone, including students, historians, researchers, government employees, business, and journalists – having become a reference in web archiving.

User experience

As important as it is to preserve our collection, it is vital to provide a great experience for our users. We are currently investing in more user-friendly guidance for websites owners. The new documentation aims to provide a straightforward understanding of the archiving process and the requirements for successfully capturing and publishing websites.

We are continually upgrading the technologies used to capture and replay websites to ensure the highest fidelity possible – a website in the archive should look and function, as far as possible, as the original site did. We are investing in auto-QA technologies to ensure our collection is of the highest possible quality. And we are focusing on opening up the data in our collection for researchers. We have been working on the development of tools and methods for this purpose, which you will hear more about in 2022!

Celebration

The National Archives is marking the 25th anniversary with a series of blogs and tweets with facts, statistics and curiosities. Stay tuned on @UKNatArchives.

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