THE BRITISH LIBRARY

UK Web Archive blog

Information from the team at the UK Web Archive, the Library's premier resource of archived UK websites

Introduction

News and views from the British Library’s web archiving team and guests. Posts about the public UK Web Archive, and since April 2013, about web archiving as part as non-print legal deposit. Editor-in-chief: Jason Webber. Read more

12 June 2019

Trains, Tea, Depression and Cats – what do UK Interactive Fiction writers write about?

Background
Works of Interactive Fiction (IF) are stories that allow the user to guide or affect the narrative by making choices, clicking links or otherwise navigating the text. As part of the 'Emerging Formats project', I’ve been investigating UK Interactive Fiction (IF) in order to help determine potential collecting priorities, and attempting to collect works for the UK Web Archive. This has allowed me to discover who is creating interactive fiction, what kinds are they creating, and what tools they’re using.

As might be expected, IF creators come from a wide variety of backgrounds and create works for a wide variety of reasons. Some create interactive fiction to educate, to experiment with particular IF tools, to create portfolio pieces to support their professional writing and design careers, to sell their work, or simply to share an idea or story. Both the tools used and the approaches to using these tools are extremely diverse, as were the genres and topics covered by the works (see fig 1) However, as I studied the 200+ items found during the course of the project, several recurring themes began to emerge.

Chart

Themes
Public transport features in a number of works, but trains are represented particularly strongly. In both Eric Eve’s, Nightfall and Jonathan Laury’s Ostrich trains are indicative of wider problems in society. Nightfall is a thriller where an unknown threat lurks in the city and that threat is made all the more ominous by the fact that the protagonist’s only means of escape – the train, is cut off at the opening of the story. In Ostrich, much of the scene-setting takes place on the protagonist’s commutes to and from work. As a totalitarian regime gradually takes over, who is and isn’t on the train, and how they behave during the journey becomes increasingly crucial. (Ostrich was created following the British Library’s Interactive Fiction Summer School in 2018).

In Journey Through Your Final Dream by Sammi Narramore and Awake the Mighty Dread by Lyle Skains, trains are presented as a dreamlike (or nightmarish) liminal space. Both works play around with the idea of falling asleep on a train and awaking disoriented and unsure whether the dream is truly over.

Many of the works live up to a particularly British stereotype by foregrounding tea. Joey Jones’ Strained Tea asks the user to perform the simple task of making a cup of tea. However, as this is a parser-based piece, the only commands available are to ‘take’, ‘put’ and move using the compass directions, turning this everyday act into a fiendishly difficult puzzle. Tom Sykes’ Fog Lights and Foul Deeds is a Lovecraftian tale set on a narrowboat, where the player-character and his crew must face the horrors lurking in the canal as they struggle to reach their destination. Tea serves as a resource which bolsters the crew’s resolve, increasing their morale and improving their chances of survival. Providing enough tea to keep the team sane, while also ensuring supplies don’t run out before journey’s end is a careful balancing act throughout the piece. Damon Wakes’ Lovely Pleasant Teatime Simulator begins as a very civilised affair where the reader-player may take tea with scones and compliment their host’s décor, but as the tea keeps coming and the banal chitchat loops around and around, new choices begin to emerge which will end the tea party in a variety of scandalous ways.

A huge number of the works deal with personal issues and experiences, with gender and sexuality occurring often, but mental health being the most prevalent topic. Many creators use the interactive affordances available to them to help convey how it feels to suffer from mental health issues. Joseph J Clark’s Depression Simulator is a short, looping piece in which no matter what option is chosen, text appears which reads: ‘You can’t. You are too sad’. Miles Aijala’s Fatigue takes a similar approach in that when the option ‘go out’ is selected, the text changes to ‘haha yeah right’ becoming greyed out and unselectable. Emma Winston’s What it Feels Like in Here is a poetic, meditative piece in which the reader-player guides a somewhat abstract avatar through a series of rooms which become smaller and smaller and darker and darker, echoing the feelings of anxiety, depression and claustrophobia discussed.

Pepito

Since these works live on the internet, it’s perhaps no surprise that many are replete with cats. Creator Ben Bruce’s work is very cat-oriented, with highlights including Bedtime, Kitties, Said the Witch, where a gathering of talking felines pester their witch owner for a bedtime story, and Something That a Cat Once Told Me About Midnight, a legend translated from the original cat about why time behaves strangely around midnight. Freya Campbell’s Pépito incorporates the Twitterbot @PepitoTheCat into a Bitsy story to imagine a day in the life of an internet cat and reflect on the death of her own pets.

Finally, many of the works are self-reflexive and describe either the experience of writing interactive fiction, reading it, or being involved with its community. The Cat Demands by Adam Hay not only features an attention-seeking cat, it’s also about a Twine author’s struggles to complete their latest piece. A Short Journey by Cameron Home critiques the structure of many interactive narratives and questions whether what they’re offering can really be considered ‘choice’.

While the works themselves may offer only an illusion of choice, the collection as a whole offers a genuine range of works to choose from. I hope you’ll explore them via the UK Web Archive, and Webrecorder, or in their original locations using the links in this blog post. (Please note that as this is an experimental project, some works may not be fully accessible via the Web Archive. For the best viewing experience, visit the live versions of the sites).

By Lynda Clark, Innovation Placement, The British Library - @notagoth

28 May 2019

FIFA Women’s World Cup and the UK Web Archive

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup will take place in France from the 7th June to the 7th July 2019. Although women's world cups date back as far as the early 1970s, the FIFA Women’s World Cup was only established in 1991. This is the fifth time that England have qualified for the FIFA World Cup but it is a first for Scotland who also join England in Group D of the competition.

Traditionally, women’s sport and in particular football is not well represented in the mainstream media but this is slowly starting to change. Coverage of events such as the FIFA Women’s World Cup is increasing, one way to gauge this is to see how many resources on the .uk web were archived. This trend graph on the UK Web Archive Shine interface, which contains all the archived .uk websites from 1996 to April 2013 shows that for each of the World Cup years that there was an increase in coverage on the .uk webspace. By clicking at a point in the graph a sample of up to 100 websites appears below the graph. There were four competitions (1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011) held during the period 1996 and 2013, but England was the only country from the UK to qualify in the 2007 and 2011 competitions. Thus, it is not surprising that there are just 11 references to “FIFA Women’s World Cup” in 1999 while there were 4,930 in 2011 on Shine Trends.

FIFA-Shine-01

Link to graph.

The UK Web Archive aims to archive the UK web space. It does this through curating collections and an annual domain crawl, which has been running since 2013 when the Non-Print Legal Deposit Regulations came into force in April 2013. Sport is a popular subject on the web, however, it is a subject area that is underrepresented in many traditional libraries and archives. The UK Web Archive works across the six UK legal Deposit Libraries and with other external partners to try and bridge gaps in our subject expertise. We have three curated collections related to sport, one of which is dedicated to the many codes of football. These collections don’t differentiate by gender but balance between male and female representation in the collections will be skewed due to the lack of gender equality that exists in all parts of society, including the news industry. According to a UNESCO report ‘only 12 percent of sports news is presented by women worldwide, and only four percent of media content is dedicated to women's sports’.

FIFA Women Image (1)

Mega sporting events like the FIFA Women’s World Cup generates a lot of ephemeral material both in print and online. On average the lifespan for a webpage is 100 days and unless it is archived, it could disappear forever. Have you spotted any UK published web content related to the England, Scotland, Germany, USA or the odds-on favourite Japan? Then fill in our Public Nomination Form and it will be added soon after:

Nominate your website.

The only criteria that nominations to the UK Web Archive have to pass, is that the content is published from the UK (but it doesn’t have to be in English, there are multiple languages in the archive) and that it is not predominately audio-visual based platforms like Soundcloud and YouTube. Although, social media does fall into scope for Non-Print Legal Deposit with the exception of Twitter other platforms are very difficult to archive and we haven’t been able to archive Facebook since 2015.

Browse through the UK Web Archive Sports: Football collection and see if we have your local club website or Twitter account, your favourite fan sites and any other football related content you enjoy viewing. Feel free to nominate your website.

The British Library is currently hosting the (FREE) exhibition: 'An Unsuitable Game for Ladies: A Century of Women's Football' (14 May – 1 September 2019).

by Helena Byrne, Curator of Web Archiving, The British Library

29 March 2019

Collecting Interactive Fiction

Intro
Works of interactive fiction are  stories where the reader/player can guide or affect the narrative in some way. This can be through turning to a specific page as in 'Choose Your Own Adventure', or clicking a link or typing text in digital works. 

Archiving Interactive Fiction
Attempts to archive UK-made interactive fiction began with an exploration of the affordances of a couple of different tools. The British Library’s own ACT (Annotation Curation Tool), and Rhizome’s WebRecorder. ACT is a system which interfaces with the Internet Archive’s Heritrix crawl engine to provide large scale captures of the UK Web. Webrecorder instead focusses on much smaller scale, higher fidelity captures which include video, audio and other multimedia content. All types of interactive fiction (parser, hypertext, choice-based and multimodal) were tested with both ACT and Webrecorder in order to determine tools which were best suited to which types of content. It should be noted that this project is experimental and ongoing, and as a result, all assertions and suggestions made here are provisional and will not necessarily affect or influence Library collection policy or the final collection. As yet, Webrecorder files do not form part of standard Library collections.

Cat_Simulator

For most parser-based works (those made with Inform 7), Webrecorder appears to work best. It is generally more time-consuming to obtain captures in Webrecorder than in ACT as each page element has to be clicked manually (or at least, the top level page in each branch must be visited) in order to create a fully replayable record. However, this is not the case with most Inform 7 works. For the vast majority, visiting the title page and pressing space bar was sufficient to capture the entire work. The works are then fully replayable in the capture, with users able to type any valid commands in any order. ACT failed to capture most parser works, but there were some successes. For example, Elizabeth Smyth’s Inform 7 game 1k Cupid was fully replayable in ACT, while Robin Johnson’s custom-made Aunts and Butlers also retained full functionality. Unfortunately, games made with Quest failed to capture with either tool.

Another form which appears to be currently unarchivable are those works which make use of live data such as location information, maps or other online resources. Matt Bryden’s Poetry Map failed to capture in ACT, and in Webrecorder although the poems themselves were retained, the background maps were lost. Similarly, Kate Pullinger’s Breathe was recorded successfully with WebRecorder, but naturally only the default text, rather than the adaptive, location-based information is present. Archiving alternative resources such as blogs describing the works may be necessary for these pieces until another solution is found. However, even where these works don’t capture as intended, running them through ACT may still have benefits. A functional version of J.R. Carpenter’s This Is A Picture of Wind, which makes use of live wind data, could not be captured, but crawling it obtained a sample thumbnail which indicates how the poems display in the live version – something which would not have been possible using Webrecorder alone.

Choice-based works made with Ink generally captured well with ACT, although Isak Grozny’s dripping with the waters of SHEOL required Webrecorder. This could be due to the dynamic menus, the use of javascript, or because Autorun has been enabled on itch.io, all of which can prevent ACT from crawling effectively. ChoiceScript games were difficult to capture with either tool for various reasons. Firstly, those which are paywalled could not be captured. Secondly, the manner in which the files are hosted appears to affect capture. When hosted as a folder of individual files rather than as a single compiled html file, the works could only be captured with Webrecorder’s Firefox emulator, and even then, the page crashes frequently. Those which had been compiled appeared to capture equally well with either tool.

Twine works generally capture reasonably well with ACT. ACT is probably the best choice for larger Twines in particular, as capturing a large number of branches quickly becomes extremely time-consuming in Webrecorder. Works which rely on images and video to tell their story, such as Chris Godber’s Glitch, however, retain a greater deal of their functionality if recorded in Webrecorder. As the game is somewhat sprawling, a route was planned through which would give a good idea of the game’s flavour while avoiding excessively long capture times. Webrecorder also contains an emulator of an older version of Firefox which is compatible with older javascript functions and Flash. This allowed for archiving of works which would have otherwise failed to capture, such as Emma Winston’s Cat Simulator 3000 and Daniel Goodbrey’s Icarus Needs.

As alluded to above, using the two tools in tandem is probably the best way to ensure these digital works of fiction are not lost. However, creators are advised to archive their own work too, either by nominating web pages to the UKWA, capturing content with Webrecorder, or saving pages with the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

By Lynda Clark, Innovation Placement, The British Library - @notagoth