PANDORA Archive reveals earliest collection of Olympic Games websites

With attention currently focused on the Games of the 30th Olympiad being held in London, it seems timely to reflect back twelve years – to the ‘dark ages’ in web archiving history – to look at the PANDORA Archive collection of websites relating to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and 2000 Paralympic Games – those summer Olympics famously declared ‘the greatest Games ever’, and the first to have its web presence systematically archived for posterity.  Little trace can be readily found for the preceding summer Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta even though its timing coincided with the dawn of web archiving activity. Scraps of post-Games information can be found at the Internet Archive – though certainly not easily since the Wayback Machine does not offer full text searching – such as the ‘Atlanta Recap’ on the US Olympic Committee website. The 2000 Sydney Olympic Games website collection is of significance and interest for Australian web archiving since it represents the first major thematic web archive collection attempted by the National Library of Australia. Smaller collections of election material had been undertaken from 1996 onwards, but the scale of material surrounding the Sydney Olympics was altogether a new challenge for the selective web archiving program at the end of the last millennium. Thus it represented an important development in the operational, workflow and technical development of the NLA’s web archiving activities. Perhaps more importantly, in the broader context of the purpose of web archiving programs to document the ephemeral publication of web materials, this collection is one of the earliest thematic event collections of web materials – though, it must be conceded, somewhat more modest than the Library of Congress Minerva Archive collection for the 2000 US Election – and the first to broadly document the online coverage of an Olympic Games event. The 2000 Sydney Olympic Games collection includes more than 130 sites – a collection for the 2000 Paralympic Games adds another 14 sites to the general Games coverage – mostly harvested in the period immediately leading up to and during the Games which were held in September 2000. Some content was collected earlier including the official site of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) which was first collected in January 1998. That site was harvested two more times in the lead up to the games (in January and May 2000) and 22 more times during September and October 2000 including every day of the competition.

SOCOG site archived on 16 September 2000

 

Shame 2000 homepage

Homepage of Shame 2000, a satirical version of the official SOCOG website set up to highlight indigenous rights issues (as archived on 15 September 2000)

While the official SOCOG site was an obviously important inclusion in the collection, much attention was given to identifying, selecting and capturing a broad coverage of websites that would reflect issues of the moment. So for example there are a number of anti-Olympic and satirical websites such as Shame 2000 and Silly 2000, both of  which aped the design of the official SOCOG site. The Sydney Olympics was promoted as the ‘Green Games’ and this is documented by the inclusion of the Green Games 2000Green Games Watch 2000 and the Greenpeace Australia Olympic Campaign sites in the collection.

Green Games 2000 homepage

Green Games Watch 2000 website as archived on 12 September 2000

Sites collected covered a broad range of perspectives and topics including sites relating to business involvement, merchandising, logistics, security, venues, tourism and travel, the latter category including that of Ansett Airlines, the official airline for the Games, and an iconic Australian airline that was to cease operations the following year. Also collected were websites providing examples of community involvement including websites developed by schools – these forming interesting small sub collection – as well as the sites of the Sydney Olympics Jewish Organising Committee and the site of the official Olympic poet. Needless to say iconic furry animals also made an appearance – this was the Olympics in Australia after all – and were (a-hem) ‘captured’ in the archive, including the Roy Slaven and H.G. Nelson creation Fatso the Wombat and some early Google logo doodling by cartoonist Ian D. Marsden who created a series of  Google Kangaroo Doodles. A browse through the sites also reveals use of some of the state-of-the-art technologies of the time, for example the ‘in your face’, if somewhat quaint by today’s standard, Flash splash page for Shell Australia.

Ansett Airlines Olympics website

The home page of the Ansett Airlines 2000 Olympic Games website as archived on 12 November 1999

For the web archivists involved (or simply librarians as they were then still called) many challenges were presented at that time. In order to achieve the objective of a broad coverage of representative sites it was important to put a lot of effort towards securing the necessary permissions (copyright licences) to collect, preserve and continue to make accessible the selected sites. As sites belonging to a number of major international companies (including Fuji Xerox, Shell, VISA, Fosters, Telstra) were involved this was not always straightforward and in some cases (for example in respect to an Eastman Kodak site and an NBC site) the necessary permissions were not able to be obtained, so such sites are not represented in the collection. Omission in such collections, unless documented, will not always be obvious and even if the omission seem evident the reasons may not always be transparent; for example, was an omission due to curatorial resources (or lack of), absence of necessary permissions or technical constraints associated with collecting or rendering the content? With the official SOCOG site the issue of permissions was made doubly complex by the fact that permissions from both SOCOG and IBM had to be negotiated. Overall, however, it can be said that the response to requests for permission was very positive from Australian organisations.

Sydney Olympic Games mascots

Sydney 2000 Olympic mascots, Syd, Millie and Olly, as seen on the Olympic medallion collection website produced by the Royal Australian Mint and the Perth Mint (as archived on 20 October 2000)

This collection was also accomplished before the NLA had developed its custom designed web archiving workflow management tool known as PANDAS (which was first deployed in 2001), and so metadata was recorded using an interim management solution, an Access database system, known as the ‘PAMS’ (short for ‘PANDORA Archive Management System’ – and long may it rest in peace). Harvesting requests were described and scoped by librarians and provided to the Library’s information technology staff who initiated and ran the gather. Moreover, the gathering was done using the ‘Harvest project’ indexing/gathering software, which was the first gathering system used by the PANDORA program prior to the implementation of the PANDAS workflow system in 2001. So the content collected for the 2000 Olympic Games collections, along with a considerable amount of other material from the early collecting efforts for PANDORA, continues to present challenges for the Library as legacy data that has been collected in a manner inconsistent with subsequent harvesting methods and which must be maintained and migrated to newer digital library storage, preservation and delivery systems to fulfill the objectives of long term preservation and access. One of the major challenges was to accomplish the archiving of the SOCOG site after each day of competition. This was the first time a daily harvest had been attempted for the PANDORA Archive and the site, by the standards of the time, was very large and complex amounting to around a 1GB harvest each day. Accomplishing the archiving – that is to say, both the collection and the provision of ongoing functional access to the preserved copies – required a coordinated effort from the Library’s information technology staff to manage the capture of the files overnight and the web archiving librarians to quality check the harvests and identify functional problems for the IT staff to try and fix, a process that went on for some time after the completion of the Games event. Looking back at the collection from the perspective of 2012 one of the most obvious absences is social media. No Twitter, no YouTube, no Facebook, no blogs. While legal and technical constraints continue to make the archiving of social media difficult and complicated, it will be fascinating to compare this early attempt at a thematic collection of websites concerning the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games with the collections that will result for the 2012 London Olympic Games through the collaborative efforts of the International Internet Preservation Consortium members hosted by the University of North Texas and the UK Web Archive which already has well over 300 sites collected and available.