The following is a guest post by Victoria Priester, a 2011 Junior Fellow working with NDIIPP.
After completing the North Carolina Public Outreach and Education Project, my next Junior Fellow internship activity involved analyzing trends in web technology on sites featured in the Library of Congress Web Archives. I focused on congressional campaign web sites to study use of social media, communication tools and multimedia features.
This project aimed to analyze specific sites over the course of eight years. I followed 100 congressional election sites over four election seasons – between 2002 and 2008 – to try and identify the evolution of web technology over that time. This project was of particular interest to me because of my background in political science, and it fulfilled both my love for political science as well as my interests in web archiving. And after completing my analysis, I had the opportunity to present my findings at the NDIIPP/NDSA partners meeting.
The project was broken into several sequential components. The first part was the selection process. I had to determine how to select members of congress in a way that wouldn’t skew the outcomes. For consistency’s sake, we selected congressional members who were running for election or re-election all four seasons. As there were hundreds of individuals who fit that requirement, I had to choose at random 100 members from the pool of several hundred to serve as our subjects. They varied in age, location, time spent in office, party affiliation and a number of other distinguishing factors.
The second and most time consuming step during this process involved scouring 400 web sites with content of interest. That all these web sites were available and their functions active and useable was truly amazing. Many of the multimedia and navigational tools were functional and painted a detailed picture as to how the site had changed and evolved. The archives provided the complete evolution of web technology trends; all I needed to do was take the time to compile some data.
The next component of the Web analysis project required me to crunch numbers to compare which trends were successful, (such as blogs) or unsuccessful (such as e-post cards).
The last part of the project was my presentation of outcomes at the NDIIPP/NDSA partners meeting. I thought about this quite a bit while lying in bed the night before. I hoped that the audience would learn more about the web election collection, and that my project might spark an idea for other projects.
Beyond the world of digital archives, I wanted to find a practical application my analysis. With all the time I dedicated to the project, I hoped that everyday people could find ways to use this information. That age-old adage popped into my head, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’
I thought that political scientists and campaign coordinators might be able to use this information to follow trends in campaigns over the course of several years to learn what worked and what didn’t. With campaigns becoming increasingly digital, it is paramount that potential candidates learn from past missteps and embrace successful digital ventures.
The fact that archived websites have so many potential uses for research was a major learning experience for me. I find it remarkable that the content can be of use for both academic research and for practical politics.