Webrecorder Does It Again

Screenshot of cover of When Melodies Gather
Screenshot of the web-archived version of the recently published When Melodies Gather.

A few months ago, I wrote about my continued adventures in web-archiving our initiative’s first publication, Enchanting the Desert. I won’t repeat the details here, but essentially I came to the conclusion that Rhizome’s Webrecorder was the best tool for that job. It was able to capture some of the dynamic JavaScript that wasn’t being activated in automated Wayback captures, and it also offered a customizable interface by which to share and deliver the archive to readers.

As our second publication, When Melodies Gather, came closer to release, I thought I would return to the tool that worked so well the first time. But a simple pass with Webrecorder wasn’t quite enough. Luckily, I was able to sit down with Ilya Kreymer, the tool’s lead developer, at LDCX a few months ago, and by the time the project was released and ready to demo at DH last month, Ilya had worked his own individualized magic on a solution.

Unlike Enchanting the Desert, which uses a custom HTML/CSS/JS framework, When Melodies Gather employs Scalar, a scholarly content management system that many academic authors are using to share their work. This database-driven platform presented barriers for a simple crawl, but Ilya was determined to work outside of the box to help us provide a stable web archive of the project while also extending the potential of Webrecorder’s capabilities. It’s no exaggeration to say he put in significant time to this challenge.

The result, which has also sparked the interest of the Scalar developers, is a prototype for which we are incredibly grateful, and it’s incited an even stronger working relationship between SUP’s digital initiative and the whole Webrecorder team. I’ve had many conversations over the past few months with Anna Perricci, who oversees product and partnership development, and I hope to be able to continue working closely with her and our fellow Mellon awardees at Rhizome to successfully capture our upcoming projects and ensure they remain part of the scholarly record. That’s a value both our initiatives have in common.

To see the archived version of When Melodies Gather and to read more about the technology behind the custom capture, click on “Web Archive” at the top of the project’s homepage.  

Aside from this individualized project, the Webrecorder team has been hard at work on their latest release, which went live June 6. We’re looking forward to trying out the new features on our next project, which is already in production. The release announcement explains that as with earlier versions of Webrecorder (webrecorder.io), users can capture web pages, including interactive features, and share their collections, but now there is a new robust set of tools for organizing, highlighting, and sharing archived web pages.

In addition to a new visual design, which ensures that the web materials in collections remain the focus of presentation, new features include curatorial tools for contextualizing and sharing collections. Curated lists can guide users to the most interesting pages in a collection, and with further description and per-page annotation, provide a path through what’s been collected. We imagine several possibilities for highlighting key features of multiple projects for sustainable promotional purposes with this feature, but it has many other potential applications among the tool’s increasing number of users.

Behind the scenes improvements in this release include the separation of Webrecorder’s user interface (front end, using React) and technical architecture (backend, relying on Python and Docker). This new API-based framework will improve performance, make more rapid development possible over time, and open up ways for other tools to interact with Webrecorder. Keep an eye out for news about automation and professional tools in the fall, including in our presentation at IIPC.

As a free, open-source platform offered by Rhizome, Webrecorder is advancing its mission to make web archiving available to all. They credit their user community, who they thank for contributing immeasurably to the improvements in this new version of Webrecorder. As one of the testers of the beta, we are very excited to see the fruits of everyone’s labor in such an indispensible and easy-to-use tool for preserving web content.

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