By: Todd Stoffer
In order to begin exploring our web archive and how it can provide insight into historical events on campus, we chose to take a look at President Barack Obama’s three separate visits to NC State. Paying particularly close attention to how they were represented on the homepage of the main NC State website as well as other NC State websites. By looking at these three distinct events that coincidentally occurred three years apart from one another we were not only able to find new materials that did not previously exist in our archives, but also to get a better understanding of how rapidly web technologies have changed.
The first visit was on May 12, 2008 when then Senator Barak Obama gave a speech at Reynolds Coliseum following his victory in the 2008 Democratic Primaries in North Carolina. The captures of the main NC State homepage surrounding this date seem not to have captured the details of this visit. This is likely a result of this being a campaign visit, limiting the need for it to be highlighted on the front page of the main NC State website. However, exploring the archive of news.ncsu.edu we were able to find the story outlining the victory speech. This news page included a rather small image gallery alongside a brief story documenting the speech. Looking at this page we can see that the website was, by todays standards, rather basic. The static HTML and small photo gallery made this version of the website relatively easy to preserve. The images in the gallery were hosted at the same place as the other web content, making them easy to capture as well. While many of the NC State News items have been migrated as the website has changed over the years, it appears that this story only existed on past versions of the website, making it impossible to find today without it having been archived.
On September 14, 2011 President Obama returned to Reynolds Coliseum for the second time seeking support for the American Jobs Act. As you can see in the archived version of the ncsu.edu homepage from that day, the president’s visit was front page news, with the main story linking to the news article discussing the visit. The news page discussing this visit is structurally very similar to the webpage outlining his 2008 visit. The photos in this gallery were uploaded to Flickr, making them more difficult to archive as they were hosted on a separate service outside of the NC State website. The full size images in this web page were not captured in this crawl when it was completed in 2011. If you click on one of the gallery images at the bottom, you will be taken to a ‘capture not found page’ that gives us the option to search to full wayback machine for that photo. In this case we are able to find the full-sized versions captured elsewhere in the Internet Archive, which will then allow us to attempt to move those into the NCSU Libraries Web Archive.
On January 15, 2015 President Obama returned to campus for the third time. This time to announce that NC State would be leading the Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute that was partially funded by a $70 million grant from the Department of Energy. You will notice that the web pages from this capture seem less complete than the earlier ones, missing a lot of the layout elements on the NC State home page. Looking at the source code, it appears that the main banner image of the NC State homepage was replaced with a live video stream of the speech provided by the White House.
This added complexity caused errors in the archival capture of the site. That video was then uploaded to YouTube after the speech where the Internet Archive was able to crawl and capture it for future playback. You can playback the video from this link. While the archived YouTube page that is hosting the video does not render properly, you will notice that the video does indeed work. In addition to documenting the technical complexity of providing a live-stream from the homepage of www.ncsu.edu, captures we have of the NC State home page surrounding this date document the rapid changes made to the NCSU homepage for breaking news stories. We can look at captures on the 15th and see links to the site where tickets for the event could be reserved, then on the next day we see the home page content changed completely to cover the president’s visit.
The examples above show not only historical information about campus events but also provide documentation of the rapidly changing landscape of web technologies. In just seven years the primary media content of a story went from small, low resolution digital images to a live video stream of the event. While the captures of these events vary greatly in quality, they all provide enough context that we can gain insight into historical campus events. Additionally, they were able to provide us with additional archival materials, such as videos and photos, that were not yet part of our collection. As we move forward with our web archiving project we will be able to ensure more complete captures of the sites by managing the crawls in near real time as historic events unfold on campus.