#RESAW2021: Mainstream vs marginal content in Web history and Web archives (texte d’introduction)

La semaine dernière s’est déroulée la 4e conférence RESAW, après Amsterdam, Londres et Aarhus. RESAW (A research infrastructure for the study of archived web materials) est une infrastructure de recherche autour de l’archivage du web, qui a été initiée notamment par Niels Brügger à Aarhus. Ma collègue Valérie Schafer est à l’origine de l’organisation de cette conférence et je la remercie de m’y avoir associé. Nous l’avons organisée en coordination avec l’événement de l’IIPC et nos collègues de la Bibliothèque nationale du Luxembourg et notamment Yves Maurer et Ben Els. Les prochaines conférences RESAW seront organisées à Aix-Marseille et Siegen – et au vu de ce qu’a été la conférence la semaine dernière, elles seront, je n’en doute pas, passionantes.

Valérie et moi avons proposé un thème pour #RESAW2021 : « Mainstream vs marginal content in Web history and Web archives ». Pour expliquer ce choix en ouverture de la conférence, j’ai écrit le petit texte ci-dessous, que j’ai réhaussé de quelques GIFs et memes…

Public Domain, Link

Why this theme?

It was quite a challenge to find a theme as brilliant, interesting (and provider of cool GIFs) as « the web that was » which was the third RESAW conference theme in Amsterdam.

« Mainstream vs marginal content in Web history and Web archives » is something that, we think, is at the heart of the web itself. The web was designed as a documentation system for researchers — so something quite marginal, in the end, hoping that our colleague from Università della Svizzera italiana will not contradict us on this point. The web was supposed to be a decentralized system, like the Internet, the network it draws upon. In a way, the web was designed to be made of margins. And at the beginning, it obviously was a marginal media composed of marginal websites if not content.

USENET. By Benjamin D. Esham, Public Domain, Link

In fact, we can maybe see the web and its evolution as the result of a tension between margins and centres, personal websites vs big data platforms, marginal content vs mainstream content. The progressive platformization of the web — we’ll say it started around 2005 and the emergence of the today altmodisch web 2.0 — has had an impact on this tension, including when it relates to content.

Though the web can be seen as made of margins, being central, being mainstream has been a constant preoccupation on the web: remember the good old counters services offered to the web users who wanted to create their homepage in the second part of the 1990s, by, for instance, tripod (that surprisingly still exists and where I created myself my first website in 1997) or GeoCities (that disappeared). This counter logic is still today visible — though on a much higher level — on YouTube, for instance. Its name changed to « likes » or « retweets », it became much more complex than counting a bit stupidly visits to your personal website, but it is still here. In fact, evaluating your influence is something that is today everywhere on the web.

Discussing mainstream vs marginal content is, hence, discussing the nature of the web itself and its role as a media that allows supposed-to-be new ways of circulation of information. Virality, that we will talk about in a few minutes, is not something new. Its speed on the web on the contrary, is something I would say is new — it even became a matter of high-frequency with social media.

The study of virality (and memes) were one of the main subjects of the conference. Author unknown.

Beyond virality — which was central to our thinking when we designed the theme –, the 4th RESAW conference theme points also out challenges in web archiving. Thinking the tension between Marginality and Mainstream is also questionning archiving gaps, losses and silences; questionning the preservation of the deep web; questioning the choices that all archivist has to do every day. It’s also questioning what will probably never be archived — the « dark web » for instance, if ever defining the dark web is even possible.

Source: Nadezhda Povroznik, @NadezhdaPovroz1. Link. Winner of the WARCnet Twitter challenge.

When we look at the great program we have for the next two days, the theme has allowed welcoming a wide range of contributions. Trolls, comments, web design, digital cultures, narratives of transition from marginal to mainstream or from mainstream to marginal content, influence, statistics, browsers fight, archival of marginal and ephemeral contents, covid-19, the invention of the web, collective memory, gaming and so much more are going to be discussed in the next two days.

We hope you will enjoy listening to or speaking at the different panels of the 4th RESAW conference!

One more thing… checkout the WARCNet Twitter challenge organised by Kees Teszelszky (@keesone) with great « next memes » made during the conference.

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