BBC Online and 'deleting' websites
There's been a lively discussion on the issues around archiving websites this week that kicked off with an initial post from Adactio blogger Jeremy Keith. He suggested that the BBC's plans to halve its top level directories were cultural vandalism. This was picked up (though later clarified) by @bengoldacre and many others. The tenor of the criticism was the same - that the BBC is failing in its duty to preserve a record of its online past.
On Friday Metro reported on a 'BBC fan' who has captured for posterity a record of the 170 sites it's suggested we'll be deleting for efficiency reasons.
And many have claimed this is only the latest failure, after the wiping (or worse) of programmes in the sixties which are seen as classics today. This is not, and never was, part of the plan.
My post last month explained that we were exploring a range of options for managing legacy content. "Deleting the lot" was not one of them, though offline storage is. The debate is quite complex. For example, one of our oldest sites www.bbc.co.uk/otr is still accessible but you could argue that it is a travesty of what its makers intended. Over time various features (for example, search) have ceased to function. You could argue that the BBC should spend money bringing this site up to date every time technology moves on, but would that be money well spent? The site still offers a number of transcripts of political interviews of the time and we may make it part of the news product. But there still may come a time when people interested in the site are better served by careful offline storage. We are also looking to apply this approach to www.bbc.co.uk/politics97.
Many have argued that www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar should remain accessible to a wide audience. Again, this is an example of a site we are looking to consolidate into a bigger product - in this case the history section of knowledge and learning.
Similarly, assets from many of the 170 sites will be re-presented in forms which can be more easily kept up to date. For instance, www.bbc.co.uk/hamlet has been superseded by http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00pk71s and placed into a format which will allow the data and assets to be refreshed or editorially changed going forward. The same has been done with www.bbc.co.uk/annefrank.
This is similar to what a site like the Guardian does when it updates its look and feel. A story from 1999 is still viewable but much of its context has gone, at least in the form which is most accessible, online http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/1999/dec/03/guardianobituaries?INTCMP=SRCH
This means that if we wish to preserve a full record of what we have published, context as well as content, we need to explore a range of options including offline storage.
To restate our intentions: we are moving towards a rational content lifecycle for our websites as practiced by many other sites across the web. The aim is consistent high quality everywhere on the site. We have a number of stand-alone websites which will in due course become obsolete and need to be managed. Some will be consolidated into bigger, persistently managed, content offerings. Others will be moved offline to be preserved.
As our plan develops we'll keep you informed.
Ian Hunter is Managing Editor, BBC Online
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