Since the ancient Sumerians compiled the first collections of inscribed clay tablets, many peoples have attempted to preserve documents, ephemera, and even the flotsam of their political, economic, and social tides. But perhaps no nation today tackles this endeavor as thoroughly as France, one of the few countries in which archivists have the legal right to copy and save virtual documents without fear of a copyright suit. Five centuries ago, King Francis I ordered book publishers to donate copies of their work to posterity. That legal deposit law, as it is known, has expanded over the years to include maps, music scores, periodicals, photographs, sound recordings, posters, motion pictures, television broadcasts, computer software, and finally, in 2006, the World Wide Web.
French archivists are still grappling with that most recent mandate. The Web, of course, is unlike any other publishing platform—not simply because it is amorphous and immeasurably large but because its “documents” are boundless. Nowadays, an “online publication” is barely recognizable as a publication in any traditional sense; it exists in a perpetual state of being updated, and it cannot be considered complete in the absence of everything else it’s hyperlinked to. Unlike books and newspapers, which have discernible titles, authors, beginnings, and ends, the Internet is utterly nonstandardized.
The task of preserving what’s put online has proved, to no one’s surprise, monumental. And it’s only getting more so as the Internet expands, as Web sites become more dynamic, and as concern grows over online privacy.
This is one of the most in-depth overviews of web archiving (nearly 4000 words) we’ve seen. The article includes comments from several people including Brewster Kahle, Founder of the Internet Archive/Wayback Machine and Abbie Grotke, National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program Web Archiving Team.
You can read the full text article here.