Tuesday, October 25, 2016

2016-10-25: Web Archive Study Informs Website Design

Shortly after beginning my Ph.D. research with the Old Dominion University Web Science and Digital Libraries team, I also rediscovered a Hampton Roads folk music non-profit I had spent a lot of time with years before.  Somehow I was talked into joining the board (not necessarily the most sensible thing when pursuing a Ph.D.).

My research area being digital preservation and web archiving, I decided to have a look at the Tidewater Friends of Folk Music (TFFM) website and its archived web pages (mementos).  Naturally, I looked at oldest copy of the home page available, 2002-01-25.  What I found is definitely reminiscent of early, mostly hand-coded HTML:

tffm.org 2002-01-25 23:57:26 GMT (Internet Archive)

Of course the most important thing for most people is concerts, so I had a look at the concerts page too (interestingly, the newest concerts page available is five years newer than the oldest home page—this phenomena was the subject was of my JCDL 2013 paper.).

tffm.org/concerts 2007-10-07 06:17:32 GMT (Internet Archive)

Clicking my way through the home and concert page and mementos, I found little had changed over time other than masthead image.

2005-08-26 21:05:28 GMT 2005-12-11 09:23:55 GMT 2009-08-31 06:31:40 GMT

The end result is that I became, and remain, TFFM’s web master.  However, studying web archive quality, that is completeness and temporal coherence, has greatly influenced my redesigns of the TFFM website.  First up was bringing the most important information to the forefront in a much more readable and navigable format.  Here is a memento captured 2011-05-23:

tffm.org 2011-05-23 11:10:54 GMT (Internet Archive)

As part of the redesign, I put my new-found knowledge of archival crawler to use.  The TFFM website now had a proper sitemap and every concert its own URI with very few URI aliases.  This design lasted until the TFFM board decided to replace “Folk” with “Acoustic,” changing the name to Tidewater Friends of Acoustic Music (TFAM).

Along with the change came a brighter look and mobile-friendly design.  Again, putting knowledge from my Ph.D. studies to work, the mobile-friendly design is responsive, adapting to the user’s device, rather than incorporating a second set of URIs and independent design.  With the response approach, archived copies replay correctly in both mobile and desktop browsers.

tidewateracoustic.org 2014-10-07 01:56:07 GMT

After watching several fellow Ph.D. students struggle with the impact of JavaScript and dynamic HTML on archivability, I elected to minimized the use of JavaScript on the TFAM the site.  JavaScript greatly complicates web archiving and reduces archive quality significantly.

So, the sensibility of taking on a volunteer website project while pursuing my Ph.D. aside, I can say that in some ways the two have synergy.  My Ph.D. studies have influenced the design of the TFAM website and the TFAM website is a small, practical, and personal proving ground for my Ph.D. work.  The two have complemented each other well.

Enjoy live music? Check out http://tidewateracoustic.org!

— Scott G. Ainsworth

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