Public Engagement with Web Archives

With a view to ensuring future access to digital cultural heritage, the first Web collections were established in the mid-1990s. To date there exist for example some 25 national Web archives in Europe that collect and preserve Web material and the Internet Archive has saved 651 billion pages since 1996. However, research projects based on the archived Web rarely engage with or include the general public. There are several reasons for this limited use of Web archives: there is a lack of awareness and a lack of examples demonstrating their value; to use them requires skills that many people do not have; and no quick and easy access is available (Winters, 2017).
However, several research projects were developed which are of interest for the general public: some of them have studied national Web ('Probing a nation’s Web sphere — the historical development of the Danish Web' (DK, 2013-), 'Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities' (UK, 2014-15), etc.), others have focused on the web activity in relation to an event, for instance the terrorist attacks in France (‘Archives sauvegarde attentats Paris' (FR, 2016)). In 2020, a nationally funded researcher network has been established (WARCnet, DK). Web archiving initiatives have also been very reactive during the COVID crisis (and sometimes invited the public to nominate URLs). This resulted in huge national collections and a unique collection of international web archives gathered by the IIPC thanks to the collaboration of more than 30 web archiving institutions (
As leaders of and/or participants in several of these initiatives, the proposers aim to stimulate greater involvement of the public with the treasure trove to be found in Web archives. Web archives contain their histories, but these important stories are largely hidden from view. The proposers want to create a frame for developing an ambitious relationship with the public, by identifying the challenges and limits to their involvement in Digital Public History at the level of:
- Web archiving
How/why could we better include publics in the selection of archived content? What is the added value? What are the constraints (i.e legal deposit)? How can we make information about access to Web archives available and raise public awareness of Web archiving?
- Selection and analysis of archives
Web archives require good knowledge of the Web archiving process if they are to be used effectively. The identification of scarce existing resources for the general public will be coupled with a perspective on needs and tools.
- Dissemination
Legal and ethical issues (author rights, gender bias, etc.) must be taken into account and the very notion of what is public must be refined.
All these elements advocate for an in-depth reflection and this working group is the starting point for a better inclusion of audiences in the creation/selection, use and enhancement of Web archives.

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