The “archivability” of a website is gaining traction as a major consideration for developers and designers who want to create everlasting and deliberate internet products. Alongside accessibility and site performance, archivability is another factor that the internet community and digital contributors should account for when publishing content on the web. According to the Stanford University Libraries, the term archivability is “the ease with which the content, structure, functionality, and front-end presentation(s) of a website can be preserved and later re-presented, using contemporary web archiving tools.” Even though my spellcheck is underlining archivability in red as a non-word, the concept of digital archivability is worth defining, understanding, and implementing.

Despite the call-to-arms from archivists and librarians to create sustainable sites, the current trend in web development to build applications in React (sites running primarily JavaScript with little HTML) appear to sidestep this concern. How does the prevalence of JavaScript affect the overall archivability of the web? Because many internet archivists and tools rely on HTML to store data, the rising dominance of React calls into question our current means of archiving. Should designers and developers be responsible for making decisions that account for archivability or is it someone else’s job (such as The Internet Archive or digital archivists)?

Current trends in web development have me wondering if The Internet Archive is ill-equipped to fully preserve tomorrow’s internet. The Internet Archive recognizes that they themselves can not fully document dynamic pages. On The Internet Archive’s Frequently Asked Questions, it says the archive is unable to contain a site’s original functionality if the site contains interactive elements. Do we need to reevaluate the solutions that have been developed to combat the “link rot” and internet decay mentioned in The New Yorker article “The Cobweb by Jill Lepore?

Admittedly, I use the internet in a relatively naive fashion. Even writing and publishing on Medium has broader implications about content access and archivability that the general user (myself included) ignores. I never really thought about how the Internet is simultaneously shifting as a dynamic collection of documents and therefore harder to preserve than more traditional, static objects. My husband (who happens to be a front-end engineer using React) pointed me to a post “JavaScript and Archives” by Ed Summers. In the post, Ed Summers dissects the implications of building with JavaScript.

Summers offers Twitter as an example of a JavaScript-heavy site that can still be archived. He also offers solutions for those archivists currently documenting the world wide web. He ends his piece on a practical and optimistic note:

“If you are in the business of building archives on the Web definitely think twice about using client-side JavaScript frameworks. If you do, make sure your site degrades so that the majority of the content is still available. You want to make it easy for Internet Archive to archive your content (lots of copies keeps stuff safe) and you want to make it easy for Google et al to index it, so people looking for your content can actually find it. Stanford University’s Web Archiving team have a superset of pages describing archivability of websites. We can’t control how other people publish on the Web, but I think as archivists we have a responsibility to think about these issues as we create archives on the Web.”

Summers approaches the problem of archivability in a balanced manner, spreading the responsibility of internet preservation among many actors by offering solutions to developers and designers concerned about JavaScript heavy content.

There are other benefits to implementing JavaScript with care and providing a degradation fallback. According to Stack Overflow, approximately 2% of internet users in the United States disable JavaScript on their browsers. Even though this number is small, it’s important to consider the needs and wants of internet users so we don’t adopt Javascript with wild abandon. This number could also grow as users become more advanced. Still, according to a TechCrunch article on programming trends, JavaScript is the most prevalent language used in the world. The newest version of JavaScript was released in 2015, which has cemented the language as one of the most modern and universal. Some believe we should dismantle a system that is growing reliant on JavaScript frameworks (see Tantek Celik’s post on JavaScript) while others like Ed Summers argue for building better archiving tools and processes.

Do you think it is the responsibility of archivists to build better archiving tools that account for all language variations and trends? Or do you think the responsibility of archivability lies with the people that build and design the web? Perhaps it’s a little bit of both? Sound off in the comments (which will hopefully be archived by Medium for posterity).

(P.S. The original article by Ed Summers was duplicated in a Medium group called “On Archive” that focuses on internet archiving as it applies to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Check it out here: https://medium.com/on-archivy)

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