Disappearing Public Sector Web Sites
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 31 March 2008
I recently used the Intute service to see what records it held about UKOLN’s activities. I found a record about the ‘Crossroads West Midlands service which UKOLN provided technical advice on the design of the collection description database:
This is the website of ‘Crossroads West Midlands’, a Resource funded project that is working to develop online access to the collections of libraries, museums and archives in the West Midlands (including universities and local authorities as well as private institutions). The Crossroads website is currently a prototype, testing a database built upon the RSLP collection level description database, covering the collections relating to the potteries industry of North Staffordshire.
The record provides additional information about the service which reminded me about the meetings I attended several years ago about this project. I was interested to see what the Crossroads West Midlands service now looks like, so I followed the link to the http://www.crossroads-wm.org.uk/ address – and, rather than a service providing access to a database of cultural heritage resources in the West Midlands, I found a page full of links to services such as golf, gambling, estate agents, motor insurance, etc.
Clearly at some point the domain name for the original service had lapsed and was purchased by a company which used it to host advertisments and links to companies which would be willing to advertise in this way (or possibly companies wishing to enhance their search engine ranking may have procured the services of a Search Engine Optimisation service and might not be aware of the approaches taken.)
I was interested in the history of the Web site. Using the Internet Archive I discovered that the Web site was first archived on 26 September 2002. At this point the information in the archive contained details about the project. The service itself was first launched around February 2003. And the service disappeared to be replaced by an advertsiment site at some point between December 2005 and April 2006.
What happened? Did project funding run out? Did key staff leave? Or was there a blunder, with nobody receiving the email requesting renewal of the domain name?
Whatever the reason, this West Midlands Crossroads service has disappeared for sight. Is this inevitable? Well back in 1999 I was the project manager for the Exploit Interactive e-journal- an EU-funded project which ran until 2000. Once the funding had finished we had to decide what would happen with the domain name. We agreed to continue paying for the domain for at least 3 years after the project funding had ceased and would try to keep the domain for a period of 10 years. This policy was informed by a survey I carried out of project Web site funded by the EU-funded Telematics for Libraries programme. As I described in an article published in Exploit Interactive in October 2000 23 Web site had disappeared of the 103 projects funded.
We are seeing a disappearance of cultural resource and EU-funded projects from the digital environment. And this may well get worse, if the UK Government’s policy of centralising its Web sites, which will result in 551 Web sites being closed down, is not managed properly. Will we, for example, find that the Drugdrive Web site at http://www.drugdrive.com/ suddenly becomes a site used for selling drugs?
What is to be done? The good news is that the Government does seem to be handling its redirects properly – the Drugdrive Web site, for example, is redirected to http://www.drugdrive.com/
Well done, the UK Government. But what about the rest of us? Are we managing the closure of Web sites? And are we assessing the risks of failing to do this? After all, if a government Web site on protection of children from dangers on the Internet became available and was bought by a pornography site, we could well see a government minister being forced to resign