Participant Information for Online Communities

Study Title: Observing Web Archival Practice

Researcher: Jessica Ogden

Ethics number: ERGO/FSHMS/23189

Please read this information carefully before deciding to take part in this research. If you are happy to participate you will be asked to sign a consent form.

What is the research about?

This study is being undertaken as part of a PhD research project on web archival practice. Much of the focus of the web archiving community has been on the continued development of technologies and practices for web collection development, with increased attention in recent years on facilitating the scholarly use of web archives. This research will take a step back to consider the place of web archives in light of postmodernism, ‘the archival turn’ and emergent questions over the ever-expansive role of memory practices and the archive in everyday life. The mechanisms and circumstances surrounding the production of web archives are fundamental to understanding them as ‘new forms of social data’. This research proposes to re-situate web archives as places of knowledge and cultural production in their own right, by implicating both the web archivist and technologies in the shaping of the ‘politics of ephemerality’ that lead to the creation, maintenance and use of web archives. In short: How does web archival practice (the who, what and how) shape what is known about the Web?

This study aims to address the following objectives:

  • To identify key underlying assumptions about what the Web is, what of the contemporary Web is (or isn’t) being archived, and the relative affordances for web archival practice and scholarly use.
  • To consider the performativity of web archiving, and the ways in which the practices of selection, collection and classification are forms of knowledge production, and thus shape what is known about the Web.
  • To examine the implications for a socio-technical understanding of web archives – by observing the interplay of both social and technological agents in the production of web memory practice(s).

This will be achieved through the use of ethnographic methods to produce an in-depth understanding of the assumptions, motivations, and technologies that inform practice(s) within different communities engaged with archiving the Web. The research will be carried out within three to four distinct ‘communities of practice’ (pending consent) – some of which involve formally dedicated organisations engaged in web archiving such as libraries, archives and other non-profit groups, as well as other less formal, distributed collectives of volunteers. The overall aim is to take into account and document the wider social, cultural, economic and technical landscape in which each community of practice resides.

This study is supported by the Web Science Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Southampton (UK).

Why have I been chosen?

You have been approached because you have been identified as a person who was or is  involved in web archiving in some way – including but not limited to activities associated with web harvesting and indexing, metadata or description practices, supporting research, developing archival policies, services, tools and standards, etc.

What will happen if I take part?

The study is using biographical interviews to investigate web archiving within different communities of practice. The interviews will involve an in-depth semi-structured interview with the investigator, focusing on your involvement in web archiving and lasting approximately 1-2 hours. The interviews are designed to explore the underlying motivations and intentions driving web archiving, as well as provide a narrative element to understanding the historical development of archiving within your community or organisation. All interviews will be digitally recorded either via Skype or an audio recorder in face-to-face interviews.

Are there any benefits in my taking part?

It is expected that the study will add to current knowledge about the state and development of web archival practice and directly contribute to the investigator’s graduate-level research. Furthermore (and where applicable), it is the researcher’s hope that the study may also incentivise and promote further interaction with web archives.

Are there any risks involved?

The expected risks to involvement are considered minimal and primarily associated with the ‘pseudonymisation’ of observations. All individual participant names will be given pseudonyms in the reporting of the findings of this research, though informants should be aware that full anonymity may not be possible in the context of the relatively small community of individuals and organisations associated with web archiving. The inclusion of organisation/community names and affiliations in the reporting will be negotiated on a case by case basis. In the event that individuals or organisations do not wish their affiliation to be revealed, organisations will be given a pseudonym, as well.

Will my participation be confidential?

Although this study will not collect personal or sensitive data, anything recorded during the context of the observations deemed confidential will remain so.

What happens if I change my mind?

You may withdraw at any time and for any reason, at which point your data will be removed from the study.

What happens if something goes wrong?

Should you have any concern or complaint, please contact the University of Southampton Head of Research Governance (+44 2380 595058, rgoinfo[at]

Where can I get more information?

Should you require any further information on the study, please contact the investigator directly (Jessica Ogden: jessica.ogden[at]