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The UK's web history, saved from the digital abyss

Photos: British Library - capturing a digital snapshot
By Nick Heath, Contributor
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1 of 5 Nick Heath/ZDNET

Photos: British Library - capturing a digital snapshot

This year the amount of digital information contained on the web is expected to reach 988 exabytes - the equivalent of a stack of books stretching from the Sun to Pluto and back.

But just as digital data is easy to create, it is also easy to destroy and the average lifespan of a website estimated to be no longer than 75 days.

Trying to capture the websites before they vanish is the UK Web Archive project, an initiative led by the British Library.

Since the project began archiving sites in 2004 it has captured 6,000 of an estimated eight million hosted in the UK. All of these sites are now available to the public through www.ukwebarchive.org.uk, following the site's launch yesterday.

The consortium is now lobbying the government to enact a change in the law that would allow it to capture sites without having to seek permission from the site owners.

A spokesman for the British Library said the change in the law would allow the consortium to capture websites at a much faster rate and help it achieve its goal of capturing seven million UK websites by 2011.

Here are a selection of the websites captured by UK Web Archive so far.

The BBC News website reports on Labour's historic victory to win a third term in office in the 2005 general election.

Screenshot: BBC

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2 of 5 Nick Heath/ZDNET

Here is the website of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games from a time when construction work was getting underway at the Olympic Park in East London.

The consortium is using technology provided by IBM to help it make sense of what websites it has captured. The IBM BigSheets tech is an analysis engine that is able to extract, analyse and mash-up data from the sites to help in cataloguing the sites and provide new insights using their information.

Screenshot: The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games

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3 of 5 Nick Heath/ZDNET

Boris Johnson marks his election as mayor of London on his website Boris-Johnson.com.

Screenshot: boris-johnson.com

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4 of 5 Nick Heath/ZDNET

The Friends of the Earth use a Flash game to parody the then European Commissioner for Trade Peter Mandelson in 2005.

Screenshot: Friends of the Earth

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5 of 5 Nick Heath/ZDNET

Capturing websites is obviously a never-ending process for the UK Web Archive and here is a very recent capture from the political blog Guido Fawkes.

Screenshot: order-order.com

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