I'm looking for help in putting together a list of dead or endangered websites for a new study on digital preservation (the Oxford Anthropology "Gone Dark" Project). The hope is to get in contact with the previous owner/operators of important web archives that have "gone dark" and are not publicly archived to work out solutions for future preservation.

It's actually really easy for a website to disappear into oblivion, even with Google cache, the Internet Archive and national digital preservation efforts like those from the British Library and US Library of Congress. Web sites need to be hosted somewhere, making the files vulnerable to natural disaster, hardware malfunction and neglect. The also need to be maintained, so sites can easily be lost when the creator gives up, moves on or can't afford to keep paying for them. Even web crawlers that have captured billions of pages can't save them all.

As a result, it is more complicated than you might think to locate websites or databases that no longer exist – virtual "ghosts" – and trickier still to figure out what happened to them.

The purpose of this thread is two-fold. First, I want to open a discussion about web preservation in general.  Even at the OAC, a network with thousands of pages of anthropological content, data preservation is a real issue that comes up whenever we discuss site development. What will this page look like in 2 or 5 or 10 or 20 years? Will it be an active part of the future internet, or become another ghost of a decaying web? A lot of that depends on how we treat the site today and how far we recognize the OAC as a valuable web archive and a piece of digital anthropological heritage.

Second, I'd like to hear about lost, endangered or dead web archives. I would be very grateful for any links or contact information you can provide for sites that have "gone dark" or are in need of preservation. For example: local heritage websites from your fieldwork locations, abandoned academic databases, newspapers or other media archives, to suggest a few. Key here are sites that never made it in to the Internet Archive/Wayback Machine, especially from small towns and developing countries. I will be piecing together the back story for each URL and would eventually hope to get in contact with someone who can tell me what happened to the site and how its loss might have been – or might still be – prevented. I'm casting the net pretty wide, so anything large or small, even just a dead link from your bookmarks will do!

One case I'm looking into is a European film web archive that was shut down because government funding ran out. That's a terrible reason to lose such a valuable resource and I'm sure that there are many more cases like this.

You can follow or "like" the project Facebook page here for project updates and to share information about digital preservation.

email: gone_dark@anthro.ox.ac.uk.

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Brilliant project. I wonder, to what extent do date-stamped lists of previous Websites already exist? Could they be accessed to make it possible to assemble a comprehensive, already-known list that individuals could scan, stimulating recall of sites not on the list?

There are some lists of big name commercial sites from the dot-com boom that people are nostalgic about, like this list of  15 defunct popular sites. Some of the early web companies might have survived the early 2000s, but they're culprits of shutting down existing services in the course of buying out other sites and paving the way for new ventures (Yahoo! does this regularly). This list shows some of these cases. Probably the most well-known example is the once massively popular web building platform GeoCities. It got shut down by Yahoo!, and has since not only been successfully archived, but given new life through various art and web history projects that focus on artifacts of the early web. Here's a list from a similar art exhibition by digital archaeologists looking at historically significant dead websites.

Looking closer to home, anthropologists must have some examples worth exploring. Off the top of my head, the Mana'o repository (started by Alex Golub as I understand it) is an interesting study. An open access anthro repository launched in 2007, by 2009, he shut it down intentionally when he didn't have time to run/host it. But it was saved from permanent e-death when it was later incorporated into a collection via the University of Hawai'i eVols Library. Not all dead or at-risk sites have to remain that way if the person with the data can work towards a solution. I suppose we should also add to this list that Savage Minds has lost its pre-2013 posts which are currently only accessible in a cumbersome sort of way from the Internet Archive.

Oh, and how can I forget. The RSS aggregator I was using to index the OAC groups and feed updated information to the homepage went down intermittently last year before finally dying completely. I had collections of over 200 feeds each that are gone. After some nagging, the developer promised me my data, but that never happened. I suspect this is a huge problem with many small startups.

Hope some of this helps to jog memories ...

John McCreery said:

Brilliant project. I wonder, to what extent do date-stamped lists of previous Websites already exist? Could they be accessed to make it possible to assemble a comprehensive, already-known list that individuals could scan, stimulating recall of sites not on the list?


Scratch Savage Minds off the list. The new site looks fancy and the archives are restored.

Ever toured the "gov docs" aisles of an official state library?  An incredibly vast graveyard of mostly nonessential and almost completely unread print material.  Depending on point of view, disappearance of given data can be regarded as "tragic loss" or "overdue housecleaning".  (Here, mind you, I do NOT liken the content of OAC to gov docs!)  If OAC has a potentially fatal trait, it may be in its overwhelming comprehensiveness, commensurate with the term "anthropology".  Is it even possible these days for an academic to seriously study "anthropology" without specializing, or even ultraspecializing?  How many effectively defunct threads are there here?  Why are they defunct?

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