DIY Web Archiving

When it comes to online experiences, the technology for creating information experiences is often more advanced than the technology designed to document and capture them. But art collective (kind of?) Rhizome has a new tool for capturing online experiences—particularly social media interactions. The goal here is to create a contextual archive that is more like the original experience. You can think of them like video game emulators that allow you to play old Nintendo games in a web browser, the interactive game collection at MoMa, or even the emulated version of Salman Rushdie’s Macintosh Performa 5400/180. Rhizome focuses on art and digital media, but the idea of archiving online experiences has applications for a broader digital culture.

Image by Nina Frazier, Mashable.

Image by Nina Frazier, Mashable.

This is sort of a shift in the way archiving digital or online documents has traditionally been carried out. Web crawlers like Heritrix (used by Internet Archive, among others) treat websites as somewhat static objects—or giant data sets—to be crawled one file at a time. The Colloq tool is more like a digital recorder, and you capture sites by navigating through them. It’s based off of the same open source Python tools that uses, which you can check out on GitHub—especially now that we all have a pretty good primer on GitHub!

Emory University's emulation of Rushdie's Macintosh

Emory University’s emulation of Rushdie’s Macintosh

Another thing that differs dramatically from traditional digital archival practice is the emphasis (or lack thereof) on file formats and embedded metadata. You don’t have to be well acquainted with archival practices to want to preserve online interactions, and many of the platforms we use today are not conducive to capturing this kind of data anyway. Web crawlers are generally unable to capture things like Vimeo, time-based Flash media, or some kinds of complex scripting in a way that’s faithful to the original interactions. Web recorders don’t always capture the same data that is available on a live site; it’s recording the experience of going through a site, not crawling documents. But an experience like Amalie Ulman’s Instagram performance isn’t really about the documents. It’s performance, so the interaction—not the photography—is what matters most. Capturing EXIF data (which Instagram strips anyway) of isolated JPEGs is kind of beside the point.

Amalia Ulman

Amalia Ulman’s digital art

If you’re not working with art collections (or you’re unable to work with Rhizome or their specific tool), you can do some DIY captures yourself using essentially the same suite of free tools. Though there are ways to automate the process if you’re willing and able to do some coding, web archiving via web recorders requires a little more human effort during the actual capturing part. It’s hard to “set it and forget it” like a crawler, but it avoids some of the logical traps that crawlers fall into (endless calendar crawling, missing pages from client-side scripting, etc.) and you end up with a version of the web that feels much more human.

Note: It’s worth mentioning that the Heritrix crawler is also open source. You don’t have to subscribe to Archive-It’s services to use the web crawler, but a local install will have similar limitations in its approach toward online data.

Further Reading:

First look: Amalia Ulman

A dynamic new tool to preserve the Friendsters of the future

New Rhizome tool preserves net art for future generations

Colloq at Rhizome: Preserving social media

The many uses of Rhizome’s new social media preservation tool

The digital life of Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie’s Macintosh

The digital archives of Salman Rushdie (overview of access)

Snooping through Salman Rushdie’s computer

The artifactual elements of born digital records, part 1

The artifactual elements of born digital records, part 2

Information or artifact: Digitizing a book

Society of American Archivists Standards Portal

Service Experience Design

Service design incorporates a lot of disciplines, including consumer research, interaction design, product design, industrial design, marketing, and even corporate strategy. It sounds a lot like UX design, but it’s not quite the same thing: UX may be built on the concepts of experience and context, but it’s primarily about creating products and apps. Service design, on the other hand, takes more of a macro view of user/customer experience.

This is especially relevant for libraries now. Though libraries have traditionally facilitated access to information and offered reference and research services to patrons, providing quality physical and digital services is even more important because most people are satisfying their information needs online. Library catalog results in Google searches are great, but they’re probably not making a big impression on people or creating experiences (much less “Disney magic“)  that give people a reason to remember the library.



A great place to start exploring service design is the annual Service Experience Conference. The 2015 conference, set for Nov 16-17 in San Francisco, describes itself as focusing on “the design of end-to-end service experiences across touchpoints, from definition to modeling to service delivery. It is for people who are passionate about creating great service experiences while also delivering value to the organizations that deliver them.” Although early bird registration is already open, the specific schedule has yet to be announced. Still, there’s a lot to be gleaned from the 2014 conference.

One of the more illuminating talks comes from Erik Flowers of Intuit, who describes his odyssey to build a service design culture at an organization that doesn’t fit the usual mold of a service-based business. Flowers, the first service experience designer at Intuit, discusses the process of introducing, designing, and implementing service design in a company that is already design-led, but wasn’t necessarily thinking about services in addition to products. He immediately distinguishes his role from that of UX design, and points out that Intuit already had hundreds of UX and IxD designers when they decided they needed someone to think about service design in a broader context. One of the ways that Flowers attempted to cultivate a service-design-thinking sentiment early on was through a service design workshop. Flowers’ workshop provided materials, scenarios, personas, and instructions for people who don’t generally participate in the design process, but who do work in various service roles. They quickly picked up the process and were able to create plenty of service blueprints. Not all (or even most) of them were feasible, desirable, or viable, but the point of the workshop wasn’t to create workable service blueprints, but rather enable a wider group of people—particularly the ones who deal in services on a day to day basis—to bring their own perspectives to the service design process.

The rest of the presentations from 2014 and 2013 are also available to watch on the SX conference site, including one on Sprig, an app for “eating well by design” and a particularly relevant presentation by Melanie Huggins on bringing user-focused service experience design to the forefront of the library.

Librarians aren’t new to the service game, but libraries do tend to foster little silos and departments that operate in isolation from each other. Circulation, interlibrary loan, collection development, reference, cataloging: these departments tend to develop their own policies and workflows, which are then presented and shared with the rest of the departments as faits accomplis. (Even our integrated library systems tend to compartmentalize roles and tasks into separate modules, and access to the modules is often restricted by department.) User assessment tends to come after the individual departments’ services are already in place. Service design, however, can take a macro approach to the library; if we look at the “seemingly disparate services as a whole entity and from users’ perspectives” (Marquez & Downey, 2015), we can better evaluate and assess the whole library ecology to deliver better user services in all contexts.

Further Reading:

This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases

Designing for Growth

Service Design: From Insight to Implementation

Service Design: An Introduction to a Holistic Assessment Methodology of Library Services

Reinventing the Academic Library and Its Mission: Service Design in Three Merged Finnish Libraries

Service design for libraries: An introduction

Service Design Toolkit