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Why should Universities archive their digital content in 2023?

Marketing Team

The amount of data in the world is set to rise tenfold - from 16 ZB to over 160 ZB - between 2016 and 2025, according to a report from IDC.1 (to amass 1 ZB of data you would have to fill over 34 billion smartphones to full capacity).

It’s a mind-blowing amount of data. So, ask yourself:

  • Have you ever thought about how much data is created by your university in a single day?
  • How much content is shared and distributed online by students, lecturers and other staff?
  • How much content is being channeled via social feeds, internal communication platforms and your website?

Digital content is a precious commodity, but it can all easily be lost forever without the right planning and foresight. To drive long-term success, we need to take proactive steps to capture, protect and future-proof web and social media data.

How are universities responding to this?

Web archiving is becoming more important for universities and Higher Education Providers (HEPs) in general. Having specialised archiving technology (or 'crawls') scour your digital estate to create ISO-compliant records is increasingly becoming the solution for these organisations.

This will make sense to universities, who are well acquainted with the need to archive. For years, these institutions have been preserving information of importance, keeping records that are incredibly valuable to students, faculty, researchers, and the general public.

Universities' ongoing shift towards digitisation was greatly accelerated by the enforced isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic,  meaning that many organisations now possess key information that can only be found online.

To help universities through those uncertain times, MirrorWeb created a heritage and compliance service, making access to digital archiving solutions easier, and ensuring long-term preservation is guaranteed.

As more data is created, and we're well on track to 2025's heady predictions, it's worthwhile realising what this means for universities:

1. Greater digital fragility risk

Like a lot of organisations, universities believe that their digital assets (websites, online content, research, student data etc) are sufficiently protected in terms of security standards.

While this does protect against immediate threats, universities are increasingly exposing themselves to the long-term risk of 'digital fragility'. This is the concept of continual data loss from an infrastructure that fails to keep up to date with technological needs.

Here are a few common examples of digital fragility mistakes:

  • Obsolete technologies and formats - From floppy disks to phased-out file formats, it often takes only a few years for hardware or software to become obsolete and unsupported. This can make it difficult or even impossible to retrieve the content stored there.
  • Use of third-party platforms - Organisations now publish a vast amount of digital content via web and social media platforms. These platforms may not exist under a company's direct control and use complex, interactive, non-standardised formats.
  • Reliance on content management and backups - Most organisations make provisions for short and medium-term secure data storage, but without considering how to protect and future-proof this content so it can still be accessed and used in the long-term.
5 ways to get the most out of your web archives

The consequences of not capturing digital content today are enormous. If you’re not capturing web and social content now, to do it retrospectively in 12 months’ time is virtually impossible.

2. New regulatory standards

University websites now represent a key record of what is happening at any given time and act as a key repository for official documents. For example, many university publications have been replaced by online web versions, while information such as course materials, research outputs and blogs are found on websites.

Preserving digital assets like these isn't just best practice, but a regulatory requirement. As well as having to adhere to GDPR and accessibility standards, universities have to meet requirements set forth by the CMA over the information they publish for students.

This online information is vital to capture for legal reasons, and you can learn more about it here (Advice on Consumer Protection Law for UK Higher Education Providers). Complying with such regulations is an important part of protecting universities against the risks of non-compliance (which can result in hefty fines and, even worse, reputational damage).

3. Heightened need to protect research data

Researcher databases need preserving for future generations. Many times, resource products can involve the creation of websites which help ensure compliance with open data initiatives, funder requirements and the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Such websites are highly valuable assets, which is why many universities create archives of them to support REF. In addition to satisfying compliance requirements, and ensuring there is a fully interactive record made to stand the test of time, this also provides evidence of university research outputs used or praised by external parties.

Most universities also encourage their researchers to deposit large web and social datasets within specialist data centres. This makes the data more discoverable to the research community who might reuse them.

4. More opportunities to strengthen legacies

We’ve had a long time to get used to moving from the physical archive to the digital archive, ensuring that vital records are always accessible. Unfortunately, due to the rate at which digital content is being created and the threat of digital fragility (as discussed above) time isn't a luxury universities have with digital preservation.

Even if we’re not entirely sure about the potential insight that will be generated from archived digital data in the future, it makes sense to capture it. At the very least, as we learn, evolve and develop, the insights it provides can be used to our advantage.

In the same way universities champion legacies with statues, plaques and cavernous libraries, the same should be done for the vast digital estates being created.

This isn't just about best practice record-keeping, but helping protect a legacy that will only become more valued in time. Creating fit-for-purpose archives of these digital estates will increasingly become an aim for many forward-thinking HEPs.

5. Data isn't just an asset, it's an investment

Website and social media archiving helps to preserve an organisation’s digital investments - e.g. professionally produced videos and blog content - that would otherwise be at risk of being lost.

We've already discussed how universities will be forced to think about their digital estates differently. However, this is another way that HEPs will increasingly come to regard their data: as an investment, as well as an asset.

With websites, digital content and social media now requiring greater investment, the output of these projects is becoming more valuable.

This content and data that may have previously provided short to mid-term value, but brings real benefits to organisations in the long term. This means universities, like all businesses, are starting to think more about how they protect this value.

At MirrorWeb, our web archiving platform has become the solution of choice for many global Public Sector organisations, including multiple state government departments and - increasingly - leading universities. Our platform provides a complete web and social media archiving solution that's fully supported by an expert team (featuring QA specialists for full quality assurance). To find out more, why not arrange a free demo by clicking the above link?

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