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Rhizome Awarded $600,000 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to build Webrecorder

By Rhizome

Rhizome is thrilled to announce today that The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded the institution a two-year, $600,000 grant to underwrite the comprehensive technical development of Webrecorder, an innovative tool to archive the dynamic web. The grant is the largest Rhizome has ever received and arrives at the start of its 20th anniversary year in 2016.

The web once delivered documents, like HTML pages. Today, it delivers complex software customized for every user, like individualized social media feeds. Current digital preservation solutions were built for that earlier time and cannot adequately cope with what the web has become. Webrecorder, in contrast, is a human-centered archival tool to create high-fidelity, interactive, contextual archives of social media and other dynamic content, such as embedded video and complex javascript, addressing our present and future.

The Webrecorder project will be led by Ilya Kreymer, who with this grant joins Rhizome as Lead Developer, in conjunction with Dragan Espenschied, the organization's Digital Conservator. Additionally, the Mellon Foundation support will fund the hiring of a second software engineer, a design lead, and a project manager to ensure this initiative's thorough realization.

Led by Dragan Espenschied, Rhizome's award-winning digital preservation program supports social memory for internet users and networked cultures through the creation of free and open source software tools that foster decentralized and vernacular archives, while ensuring the growth of and continuing public access to the Rhizome ArtBase, a collection of 2,000+ born-digital artworks.

"In 1999, Rhizome founded the ArtBase, a distinctive collection of technically diverse born-digital art. In 2009, recognizing the fragility of these system-dependent works, we created a digital preservation program to care for them. In 2014, we recruited Dragan Espenschied to rethink how individuals accessed and experienced the collection. Last year, we partnered with Ilya Kreymer as part of an institutional commitment to developing new tools to archive an increasingly complex web. In 2016, our 20th anniversary year, we look forward to leading further innovation in the field of digital preservation through the Webrecorder project," said Zachary Kaplan, Rhizome’s Executive Director. "We are grateful for the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation."

An early version of Webrecorder is available at webrecorder.io. The free service allows users to archive dynamic web content through browsing, and to instantly review that archived content and download their own copy of it. Anonymous use is open to all, but those who wish to host a public or private archive collection on the site can request an invitation for that offering, available on a limited basis. Webrecorder is built with open-source tools and is released under the Apache open-source license at: https://github.com/webrecorder/webrecorder.

About the potential impact of Webrecorder, Rhizome's Artistic Director Michael Connor said: "The things we create and discover and share online—from embedded videos to social media profiles—are often lost, or become unrecognizable with the passage of time. Webrecorder, with its ability to capture and play back dynamic web content, and its emphasis on putting tools into users’ hands, is a major step towards addressing this, and improving digital social memory for all."

Webrecorder will complement Rhizome's other major digital preservation research on "Emulation as a Service" (EaaS), jointly led with the University of Freiburg, which enables users to understand and access legacy software and operating systems via a modern web browser. A tool related to EaaS is oldweb.today, created by Ilya Kreymer with Dragan Espenschied, which uses a similar approach to connect websites from multiple existing web archives, including the Library of Congress, Stanford Library Archives, Rhizome ArtBase and the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, to contemporaneous browsers like Mosaic and Netscape Navigator. In the two weeks since its release, oldweb.today has seen over a 1,000,000 visits and widespread coverage in the press, including in Vice, Forbes, Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, Gizmodo, and Quartz.

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