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WebWatch: Surfing Historical UK University Web Sites

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Brian Kelly outlines strategies for choosing appropriate standards for building Web sites.

It has been said that those who ignore history, are condemned to repeat it. In the Web world we can be so excited by new developments that we may forget approaches we have taken in the past and fail to learn from our mistakes. This article describes how the WayBack Machine [1] was used to look at the history of UK University Web sites.

The Survey

The survey was carried out by entering the URL of the entry point for UK University Web sites, recording details of the availability of the Web site in the Internet Archive (including earliest and most recent dates and numbers of entries) and providing a link to enable readers of this article to obtain the most recent results.

The full survey findings are given in the Appendix.

Viewing The Past

A "Web Tour" has been developed which provides an automated view of the oldest pages. The display changes every 10 seconds. The Web tour is available at [2].

Discussion

Brief comments are provided on interesting findings in the Appendix. It was noted, for example, that in a number of cases images were not displayed. This will have been due to the site containing a robots.txt file which banned robots from accessing directories containing images for the site, such as the institution's logo, standard navigation images, etc. When the Standard For Robot Exclusion [3] was first released it was applicable for indexing robots such as the robot used by the AltaVista search engine. The consensus view was that it was advisable to ban robots from accessing directories containing images, as these contained no text to be indexed. We can now see that robots provide a wide range of functions which include archiving. There are advantages to be gained in allowing robots to access directories of images, not only so that the Internet Archive's robot can archive a Web site's images, but also to allow indexing robots which can provide a search facility for images (such as the Google image search [4]).

A number of Web sites contained "Best viewed in Netscape 2" style messages. The community probably now accepts that designing best sites for a specific browser is not advisable and it is probably sensible to avoid promoting a specific browser on an institution's entry point.

There appeared to be a number of instances of use of non-native Web technologies such as Java which required browser plugins on institutional home pages.

There were also a number of instances of use of frames or content provided by third parties, (such as usage counters), which were not fully functional in the archived Web site.

Conclusions

The Internet Archive can be a fun resource to access, especially for Web managers who have been developing Web sites for a number of years. However in addition to the embarrassment factor, ("did I really use the <BLINK> tag!"), there are also valuable lessons which can be learnt from our approaches to Web site development in the late 1990s. It can help us to reflect on the processes which lead to the chosen design; the technical decisions which where used and the way in which we sought to support the users of our Web sites.

This will, of course, be a continuous process. The decisions we are making today are the potential embarrassment of tomorrow. Perhaps the most importance message of this survey is the need to preserve access to to our digital past. The Internet Archive may provide one mechanism for preserving the past (provided, of course, that we allow robots to access our resources). Some organisations, however, may not feel comfortable in relying on a third party. In this case there will be a need to develop a digital preservation or records management approach which embraces institutional Web sites.

References

  1. Wayback Machine, Internet Archive
    http://www.archive.org/
  2. Display of UK University Entry Points From Internet Archive, UKOLN
    http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/site-rolling-demos/universities-archive/
  3. A Standard for Robot Exclusion, The Web Robot Pages,
    http://www.robotstxt.org/wc/norobots.html
  4. Google Image Search, Google,
    http://images.google.com/


Appendix 1 - Survey

A summary of the findings is given in the following table.

Table 1: Analysis of UK University Web Sites in Internet Archive
  Institution Earliest finding Comments View Archive View Earliest Entry
1 Aberdeen Dec 12, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
2 Abertay Dundee Sep 03, 1999 Images not displayed. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
3 Aberystwyth Dec 10, 1997 Images not displayed. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
4 Anglia Polytechnic University Mar 30, 1997 Images not displayed. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
5 Aston Jan 23, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
6 Bangor Feb 20, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
7 Bath Spa Dec 02, 1998 Blank page displayed. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
8 Bath Apr 18, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
9 Queen's University of Belfast Dec 10, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
10 Bell College Dec 10, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
11 Birkbeck College Dec 01, 1998 Sidebar not available due to robots.txt file. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
12 Birmingham Jan 06, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
13 Bishop Grosseteste College Nov 11, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
14 Bolton Institute Dec 01, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
15 Arts Institute at Bournemouth Oct 09, 1999 "Splash screen" causes problems. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
16 Bournemouth Oct 20, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
17 Bradford Apr 30, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
18 Brighton Jul 15, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
19 Bristol Jun 06, 1997 Has links to Extranet and Intranet. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
20 Brunel Dec 10, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
21 Buckinghamshire Chilterns Nov 25, 1999 Creates pop-up window and uses frames and JavaScripted navigation. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
22 Cambridge Feb 12, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
23 Institute of Cancer Research Feb 27, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
24 Canterbury Christ Church Feb 17, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
25 Cardiff Dec 10, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
26 University of Wales Institute, Cardiff Dec 06, 1998 Has Java applet which does not work. Images not displayed. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
27 University of Central England Dec 18, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
28 University of Central Lancashire Dec 12, 1997 Blank screen. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
29 Central School of Speech and Drama Oct 11, 1999   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
30 Chester College Dec 10, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
31 University College Chichester Aug 19, 2000   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
32 City University Feb 07, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
33 Courtauld Institute of Art Dec 06, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
34 Coventry Dec 11, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
35 Cranfield   Not archived due to site's robots.txt file. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
36 Dartington College Jul 06, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
37 De Montfort Jan 05, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
38 Derby Jul 03, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
39 Dundee Jun 03, 1997 Large numbers of links. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
40 Durham Jun 07, 1997 Repeated use of logo as watermark. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
41 East Anglia Dec 10, 1997 Error in accessing page in Archive. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
42 University of East London Jun 26, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
43 Edge Hill College Jan 25, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
44 Edinburgh College of Art Apr 22, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
45 Edinburgh Jan 04, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
46 Essex Dec 10, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
47 Exeter Mar 30, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
48 Falmouth College - Note archived due to site's robots.txt file. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
49 Glamorgan Nov 11, 1998 Comment about "Flash 3 plugin". [View] [View Earliest Entry]
50 Glasgow Caledonian Jan 02, 1997 Contains link to home page. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
51 Glasgow School of Art May 08, 1997 Contains "best viewed with Netscape Navigator 2.0 or higher" message. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
52 Glasgow Feb 06, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
53 Gloucestershire Jan 22, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
54 Goldsmiths College Jan 27, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
55 Greenwich Dec 11, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
56 Harper Adams Apr 11, 2000 Uses Java applet (not found). [View] [View Earliest Entry]
57 Heriot-Watt Jan 14, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
58 Hertfordshire Jul 14, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
59 Huddersfield Jun 26, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
60 Hull Feb 06, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
61 Imperial College Nov 06, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
62 Institute of Education May 23, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
63 Keele Apr 16, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
64 Kent Institute of Art and Design Nov 08, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
65 Kent Oct 14, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
66 King Alfred's College Dec 02, 1998 Framed interface, but pages not in archive. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
67 King's College London Jul 07, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
68 Kingston Dec 10, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
69 Lampeter Feb 19, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
70 Lancaster Oct 21, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
71 Leeds Metropolitan University Jul 22, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
72 Leeds Oct 19, 1996 File Retrieve Error. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
73 Leicester Jun 13, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
74 Lincoln Jan 25, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
75 Liverpool Hope Apr 14, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
76 Liverpool John Moores University Apr 29, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
77 Liverpool Feb 17, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
78 London Business School Jun 30, 1997 Contains "You will require the following:
Netscape Navigator 2.1 or higher
Internet Explorer 3.0 or higher" message.
[View] [View Earliest Entry]
79 London Guildhall University Dec 11, 1997 Images not displayed. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
80 London Institute   Not available due to robots.txt file. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
81 University of London Jun 10, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
82 London School of Economics Dec 31, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
83 London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Feb 06, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
84 Loughborough Nov 09, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
85 Luton Dec 11, 1997 Has "Best viewed with Netscape" message.
Navigational images not displayed.
[View] [View Earliest Entry]
86 UMIST Apr 05, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
87 Manchester Metropolitan University Jul 09, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
88 Manchester Dec 11, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
89 University of Wales College of Medicine Apr 13, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
90 Middlesex Apr 24, 1997 Page not available in index. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
91 Napier Dec 24, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
92 Newcastle Feb 15, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
93 Newman College Apr 10, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
94 Newport Dec 21, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
95 North-East Wales Institute of Higher Education Nov 12, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
96 University of North London May 23, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
97 University College Northampton Feb 27, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
98 Northern School of Contemporary Dance May 07, 1997 Framed interface. Usage counter not operational. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
99 University of Northumbria Feb 06, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
100 Norwich School of Art and Design Apr 12, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
101 Nottingham Trent University Jul 24, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
102 Nottingham Dec 10, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
103 Oxford Brookes Feb 12, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
104 Oxford Dec 11, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
105 Paisley Dec 11, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
106 Plymouth Jan 13, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
107 Portsmouth Feb 21, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
108 Queen Margaret University College, Dec 24, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
109 Queen Mary and Westfield College Apr 23, 2001   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
110 Ravensbourne College Dec 31, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
111 Reading Jan 03, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
112 University of Wales, Registry Dec 05, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
113 Robert Gordon University Jul 02, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
114 University of Surrey, Roehampton Jun 03, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
115 Rose Bruford College Dec 05, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
116 Royal Academy of Music Dec 12, 1998 Grey box on blue background. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
117 Royal Agricultural College Apr 05, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
118 Royal College of Art Jan 20, 1997 Java applets not found. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
119 Royal College of Music Dec 19, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
120 Royal Holloway Aug 17, 2000 Displays simple text file, with message about page for modern browsers which support JavaScript. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
121 Royal Northern College of Music Jan 25, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
122 Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama Oct 12, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
123 Royal Veterinary College Jun 23, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
124 St Andrews Jan 07, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
125 St George's Hospital Medical School Oct 22, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
126 College of St Mark and St John Dec 24, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
127 St Martin's College Dec 28, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
128 St Mary's College Jan 17, 1999   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
129 Salford Jan 29, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
130 School of Oriental and African Studies Jan 21, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
131 School of Pharmacy Dec 06, 1998   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
132 Scottish Agricultural College Oct 07, 1997 Contains large grey image, provided by Internet Archive. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
133 Sheffield Hallam Oct 11, 1997 Page timed out - uses JavaScript to detect Netscape version 2. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
134 Sheffield Nov 11, 1998 Path Index Error. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
135 South Bank University Jul 19, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
136 Southampton Institute Dec 21, 1997 Has "recommended that these pages be viewed using Netscape 2.0 or Internet Explorer 3.0" message. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
137 Southampton Dec 29, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
138 Staffordshire Feb 21, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
139 Stirling Feb 28, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
140 Strathclyde Jun 05, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
141 Sunderland Dec 11, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
142 Surrey Institute of Art and Design Dec 11, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
143 Surrey May 03, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
144 Sussex Dec 11, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
145 Swansea Institute Jan 10, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
146 University of Wales, Swansea Dec 23, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
147 Teesside Jul 09, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
148 Thames Valley University Dec 22, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
149 Open University Feb 01, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
150 Trinity College of Music - No matches found. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
151 Trinity College, Carmarthen Jan 22, 1998 No text displayed. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
152 Trinity and All Saints College Nov 29, 1996   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
153 Ulster Feb 12, 1997 Path Index Error. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
154 University College London Dec 10, 1997 Path Index Error. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
155 Warwick Dec 10, 1997 Images not displayed. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
156 Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama - No matches found. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
157 University of the West of England Jan 03, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
158 Westminster Dec 11, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
159 Wolverhampton Feb 04, 1997 Path Index Error. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
160 University College Worcester May 26, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
161 Writtle College Mar 29, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]
162 York St John College Aug 03, 2001 Path Index Error. [View] [View Earliest Entry]
163 York Jan 08, 1997   [View] [View Earliest Entry]

The information in the table was initially collected between 20-23 December 2002

Author Details

Picture of Brian Kelly Brian Kelly
UK Web Focus
UKOLN
University of Bath
Bath
BA2 7AY

Email: b.kelly@ukoln.ac.uk

Brian Kelly is UK Web Focus. He works for UKOLN, which is based at the University of Bath

 

Date published: 
30 April 2003

This article has been published under copyright; please see our access terms and copyright guidance regarding use of content from this article. See also our explanations of how to cite Ariadne articles for examples of bibliographic format.

How to cite this article

Brian Kelly. "WebWatch: Surfing Historical UK University Web Sites". April 2003, Ariadne Issue 35 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue35/web-watch/


article | by Dr. Radut