WhiteHouse.gov archives are a small positive step in preserving digital history

As a new administration prepares to take office this month, I’m concerned about attempts to rewrite history.

The President-Elect is notably inconsistent in his opinions and stances over the years. And, in the few years he’s been on Twitter, he’s taken to deleting any inconvenient past posts. At the state level, in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker’s administration is removing mentions of climate change from a state Department of Natural Resources website about (ahem) how the agency “would deal with warming planet.”


Screenshot of WhiteHouse.gov on January 4, 2017
Screenshot of WhiteHouse.gov on January 4, 2017

All of which made me wonder about the history of WhiteHouse.gov. After literally wondering about this in the middle of the night, I researched enough to be able to sleep easier (on this front) going forward.

Digital history is being preserved, however imperfectly, and our responsibility as citizens to learn from our past enjoys a firm foundation.

The Obama Administration published a detailed guide to its digital transition, before the election. Here’s the section focusing on WhiteHouse.gov:

“Similar to the Clinton and Bush White House websites, President Obama’s WhiteHouse.gov will be preserved on the web and frozen after January 20th and made available at ObamaWhiteHouse.gov. The incoming White House will receive the WhiteHouse.gov domain and all content that has been posted to WhiteHouse.gov during the Obama administration will be archived with NARA.”

The first public website for the White House was developed in 1994, during the Clinton administration. As noted in the quote above, the National Archives have versions of the Clinton website, both the final version and final version, but impressive collection of other versions and other historical documents is found within the Clinton Digital Library, with links to official government hosting. The final WhiteHouse.gov from George W. Bush, too, is hosted officially by the government at https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/.

In a smaller vein, the current White House keeps public versions of its privacy policy changes over time, although that page goes back only to February 26, 2010, within a single administration. We’ll see if version control and public accountability continues.

Other federal government digital data

I’m not surprised, but still pleased: the Internet Archive is leading a comprehensive effort across all U.S. government websites. More details on the project were published on December 15, 2016, but the goal is to make the End of Term Web Archive a comprehensive resource for all. (Note: HTTPS is not supported on the End of Term Web Archive, currently. Sigh.)

History and (even better) version control for laws and public documents of all kinds makes sense and helps us hold each other accountable over time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, so I’ve made a small donation to the Internet Archive, inspired by what they’ve already achieved and to support more work here. You can donate, too.

Preserving my own digital history

I’m drawn to this subject not simply because of political shenanigans or concerns over how America holds itself accountable during the coming years, but because on a personal level I’m working to rehabilitate my previous years of blogging, currently offline in a WordPress XML archive. From March 2003 to January 2012, I published 1,465 posts at http://www.pencoyd.com/clock which are currently offline. I’m working on resurrecting that archive next. I’ll use https://clock.pencoyd.com/ as the blog home going forward.

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Small irony, given my past work life: I needed to allow web.archive.org as a Proxy/Anonymizer in my OpenDNS parental controls to view the old versions of my blog.

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