Disappearing Conference Web Sites: Learning From the EUNIS Experience

EUNIS Conference Resources

Back in June 2005 I presented peer-reviewed papers on Let’s Free IT Support Materials!, IT Services – Help Or Hindrance To National IT Development Programmes? and Using Networked Technologies to Support Conferences. I also, I’ve just noticed, facilitated a half-day workshop session on Supporting Technology-Facilitated Learning In The Conference Environment – this was, I think, the first time I gave a workshop on what subsequently became better known as ‘amplified events’.

But what of the context of this work? The papers were presented at the EUNIS 2005 conference, with the workshop being one of several pre-conference sessions. The conference was held at the EUNIS 2005 conference at the University of Manchester on 20-25 June 2005. But recently I noticed that the conference Web site, which was hosted at http://www.mc.manchester.ac.uk/eunis2005/, was no longer available.

Does this matter? The conference, which is organised annually by the European University Information Systems Organization, took place over 7 years ago. Might it not be argued that the sharing of best practices and innovation across IT support services departments across Europe does not need a record of best practices dating back to the mid 1990s?

EUNIS does provide information about its previous conferences, as illustrated. This shows that conferences were held in Düsseldorf in 1995 and Manchester in 1996. However the EUNIS 1997 conference, held in Grenoble, is the oldest EUNIS event for which Web resources are still available.

From the list of papers presented at EUNIS 1997 (which is hosted on the main EUNIS Web site) I discovered a paper on Information Services – the Convergence Agenda by M Clark, IT Services Director at the University of Salford, about mergers at Salford University.

The other papers with authors from UK institutions were Preservation of the Electronic Assets of a University by Alex Reid, University of Oxford; “Applying Risk Analysis Methods to University Systems” by W R Chisnall, University of Manchester; Managing Information for Management by John Townsend, Edge Hill University College and Information Strategy – a Tool for Institutional Change by Andrew Rothery, Worcester College of Higher Education and Ann Hughes, University of Nottingham.

Ironically all of these papers have some relevance to the disappearance of the EUNIS 2005 Web site. The conference took place shortly after a merger of the University of Manchester and UMIST, which led to the integration of the IT Service departments from both of these institutions, with subsequent changes in staffing, departmental names and responsibilities. It seems that Manchester Computing no longer exists, with the http://www.mc.manchester.ac.uk/ URL now being redirected to Research Computing at http://www.rcs.manchester.ac.uk/

It would appear that there is still a need for the sector to be able to develop strategic responses and use of risk analysis methods to held ensure the preservation of digital resources arising from mergers. It would seem that all of the papers from the EUNIS 1997 conference still have some relevance!

Preserving Conference Resources

If, as had been suggested, old conference Web sites have value, how should one respond to the disappearance of sites such as the EUNIS 2005 Web site?

For me the first port of call is the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. It seems that the EUNIS 2005 Web site has been crawled 52 times, going all the way back to November 19, 2004.

The earliest archive contains a record of the call for papers and therefore does not contain any of the papers. It is therefore the latest archive, which was carried out on 5 May 2008, which should be of the most relevance. However in order to ensure that this archive contained relevant information I ensured that it contained a copy of the final programme. As illustrated, the final programme is available in the archive, but I noticed that this page had been archived on 8 October 2007; there had been 14 captures of this paper between 3 March 2006 and 8 October 2007.

I also found that my papers on Using Networked Technologies To Support ConferencesLet’s Free IT Support Materials! and IT Services – Help Or Hindrance To National IT Development Programmes? were also available in the archive. It was interesting to note that the archive included the PDF versions of the papers as well as the HTML resources for the conference Web site.

The Internet Archive appears to have been successful in keeping a copy of the key resources on the conference Web site. However when I followed a link to “Photographs from the Conference: (registration staffsessionsconference dinner)” I found that the archive appeared to simply contain a copy of an error message, as shown below.

This may have been a failing by the Internet Archive’s software but, looking at the path name, I suspect the crawler simply captured an error message generated by the EUNIS 2005 Web server software.

Next Steps

When I noticed that the EUNIS 2005 Web site had vanished I informed the EUNIS organisers and suggested that they may wish to provide a link to the Internet Archive’s copy. This has now been done. I have also updated the links to the conference Web site from my list of papers and presentations.

There are clearly operational decisions which need to be take in order to minimise the risk of loss of content (and context) when intellectual content is deposited on conference Web sites. But what are the implications as we look to the future? For my content, I had previously ensured that the papers were deposited in the University of Bath repository so, for me, it was the loss of context which had the greatest significance. But what is likely to be the more sustainable resource in the future: the conference Web site hosted on an established, viable and trusted University Web site or the Internet Archive? I can’t help but feel that I should be looking to ensure that the Internet Archive contains a working copy of content currently hosted on areas of institutional Web sites which may not be sustained in light of policy or organisational changes. And what of EUNIS? Might they find it useful to provide links to the copies of previous EUNIS conferences held on Internet Archive, in addition to the existing conference Web sites?

View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy]


  1. The research computing group at Manchester University is only part of the continuation of Manchester Computing (where I used to work), which also included MIMAS. (I don’t think the MIMAS website would have helped you though, as it seems not to be searchable!)

    Link rot is still very much with us despite the availability of automatic redirection of URLs and domains. I went through my collection of bookmarks recently and found that about 7-8% of the URLs no longer took me to what I’d bookmarked. The proportion of work-related URLs which failed in this way appeared to be no lower than that of the collection as a whole. It’s still not unknown for whole domains to vanish utterly because redirection to an explanatory page was not included in the exit strategy (this happened for example to the BOPCAS service). More commonly there is a reorganisation of a website and only the continuity of what is thought currently important is preserved. Online information which existed only as a downloadable document seems to be particularly vulnerable, although with the increased use of repositories the loss of this will I hope become rarer.

  2. Thanks Virginia.

    As is often the case these days, much of the feedback on blog posts comes via Twitter. In particular the following comments are worth capturing.

    @hvdsomp pointed out that:

    JCDL has snapshot archives of past conference web sites http://t.co/QCMnE2ZM Some originals taken over e.g. http://t.co/2L0hf62N

    @libnik shared his annoyances:

    Equally annoying: ‘rolling’ conference sites that have a permanent URL but only contain the latest year’s content.

    @thislast gave his thoughts on where responsibilities may lie:

    It looks like part of a reluctance among administrators & scholars to value the work of librarians. But see http://t.co/8SLsLJzU

  3. I agree. I think universities are failing to live up to their responsibility of knowledge preservation. It’s not just conferences but even old versions of their websites.

    I have long advocated that some body like JISC should simply fund an Academic archive that would not only preserve but also assign UUIDs to all digital content so that they can be tracked down later.

    It’s amazing to me that it still hasn’t happened.

    As somebody who has organized a few conferences in the past, I know how hard it is to archive the website. Conference organizers need better tools. For instance, a lot of distributions (like Drupal or WordPress) for organizing conferences are designed for the single conference with little or no thought given to archiving it. And most conferences don’t even use tools like these that would make it easy.


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