Alexa Internet, provider of the free Web navigation service Alexa, has donated a copy of the public World Wide Web to the Library, in the first large-scale contribution of digital materials received by the institution. With this donation, Alexa helps the Library of Congress take a major step toward preservation of the Web.
The donation, comprising two terabytes of Web content, is in the form of an interactive digital sculpture containing 44 digital tapes alongside four computer monitors, pictured at left. Titled World Wide Web 1997: 2 Terabytes in 63 Inches, the sculpture, by renowned digital artist Alan Rath, intermittently flashes pages from the 500,000 sites gathered and stored by Alexa Internet. The digital sculpture includes text, images and audio files representing a full "snapshot" of the Web from early 1997.
The donation complements the efforts of the Library of Congress's National Digital Library Program, which makes freely available on the Internet rare American historical items from the Library's collections. More than 1 million interesting and important manuscripts, films, sound recordings and photographs are currently online at www.loc.gov/. Alexa's donation represents the Library's largest and most significant collection of information "born digital," or information created and published through digital media such as the Web.
"Alexa Internet's donation of the Web enhances the Library's holdings and ensures that one of the most significant collections of human thought and expression born of a new medium is preserved in the national collections," said Winston Tabb, associate librarian for Library Services. "Alan Rath's sculpture serves as a tangible icon representing the Web and will help our visitors envision the scope of what has become one of the largest sources of information ever built by humankind."
"The fabric of the Web is a temporary one at best unless we commit to its long-term care and feeding," said Brewster Kahle, president of Alexa Internet. "With our donation of the Web Archive to the Library of Congress we're trying to build an infrastructure that transforms the Web into a resource to benefit future generations of scholars and historians."
Why should the Library of Congress preserve the Web?
The Library's collections comprise nearly all fields of knowledge in all formats. For Congress, it is the library of first resort; for many researchers, it is the library of last resort. It is thus important for the institution continually to extend its collections to accommodate new formats of creativity, preserving this electronic information for future generations just as the Library preserves its analog collections.
Alexa Internet estimates that the Web is growing at the rate of 1.5 million pages daily. Statistics show that if the present rate of growth continues, the Web will contain more than 1 billion pages by the year 2000. However, just as some of the most significant and cherished books over time are now out of print, Alexa's data reveal that 1 percent of all Web pages are gone after a week. These pages range from personal home pages to public discussion group archives to early versions of commercial Web sites. Since 1996, Alexa Internet has been committed to gathering, storing and preserving the Web so that sites will be available long after they have been removed from the Web or altered.
Using robot technology, Alexa Internet "crawls" the Web every six to eight weeks, and then analyzes and stores data available on the public Web. Alexa uses the data collected for its free Alexa service, a Web surf engine designed to find Web pages that are no longer available. Alexa then donates a copy of each Web "crawl" to the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization endowed to preserve copies of the Web for research purposes and for posterity.
The Library of Congress's mission is to make its resources available and useful to Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations. Founded in 1800 to serve the reference needs of Congress, the Library of Congress is the world's largest library, containing more than 113 million items in nearly every language and format.
The National Digital Library Program of the Library of Congress aims to make freely available over the Internet millions of items by the year 2000, in collaboration with other institutions. Named one of the "Top 100" Web sites by PC Magazine, called "remarkable" by The New York Times and "one nation's treasure" by Wired, the Library's Web site handles more than 60 million transactions per month.
Founded in April 1996 by Brewster Kahle and Bruce Gilliat, Alexa Internet is a leading provider of dynamic, relevant data about the Web to enable users to make intelligent business and consumer decisions.
The free Alexa Web navigation service is available for download at www.alexa.com.