May 20, 2022

Conference Paper: “Formats Over Time: Exploring UK Web History”

Update (1o/10/12): The British Library has posted a summary of the paper below.

Preliminary findings from a study of 2.5 billion files archived from the UK web domain between 1996-2010 suggests that the obsolescence of formatsis slowing over time, despite widespread speculation that it would speed up or remain static. Analysis of the files, through a project funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and published by the British Library, will provide the clearest practical indication yet of how digital formats may endure in the future.

Direct to Full Text


Formats Over Time: Exploring UK Web History


Andrew N. Jackson
The British Library


via arXiv
Presented Last Week at iPres 2012 in Toronto


Is software obsolescence a significant risk? To explore this issue, we analysed a corpus of over 2.5 billion resources corresponding to the UK Web domain, as crawled between 1996 and 2010. Using the DROID and Apache Tika identification tools, we examined each resource and captured the results as extended MIME types, embedding version, software and hardware identifiers alongside the format information. The combined results form a detailed temporal format profile of the corpus, which we have made available as open data. We present the results of our initial analysis of this dataset. We look at image, HTML and PDF resources in some detail, showing how the usage of different formats, versions and software implementations has changed over time. Furthermore, we show that software obsolescence is rare on the web and uncover evidence indicating that network effects act to stabilise formats against obsolescence.

Direct to Full Text (4 pages; PDF)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.