Digital materials that appear online during or in response to an historic event can provide important perspectives on that occurrence. Yet these sources, which include social media messages, news (whether multimedia or text) and other web sites, often disappear quickly, whether due to neglect, commercial appropriation, or active censorship. The format and scale of such ephemeral web resources also tend to require specialized software tools and approaches to collect, preserve, and understand them.
Data visualizations can provide a variety of perspectives on web ephemera, from visual summaries of unimaginably large collections of digital objects to detailed analyses and comparisons of individual records. High-level, “macroscopic” views of large-scale web materials (for example, millions of social media messages about a specific event), as well as visualizations of correlations between different types of materials (such as television news coverage and social media), can be crucial to understanding the contents of web ephemera collections and identifying smaller subsets of records that may be of particular interest.
The ephemeral nature of web sites is evident in how quickly sites change, move or are removed all together. Although the average lifespan of a Web page can be difficult to determine, the estimates range from 44 days to 100 days (N. Taylor, 2011. “The average lifespan of a Webpage,” The Signal: Digital Preservation (8 November), at http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2011/11/the-average-lifespan-of-a-webpage/, accessed 11 November 2014; http://perma.cc/FL5X-R285, accessed 24 April 2015.)
The IDEP Project Team at UCLA Library are capturing websites in the following areas.