Exploring Youth.Gc.Ca between 1996 and 2014: From Economic Development to Youth Hub (and back)?

It isn’t all computational inquiries into web archives here at ianmilligan.ca – I’ve also been doing quite a bit of “close reading” of individual documents. Some of this will be showcased in a forthcoming conference paper and publication on early Internet regulation in Canada, which uses websites much like historians use traditional primary sources: downloading them, reading them, crafting a narrative out of a few hundred documents. I’ll provide some more information on that as it comes together.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing some random explorations. This morning, while playing around with various national web archives, I began to tinker with the youth.gc.ca website and generated this comparative picture:

At left, the website from January 2006, and at right, the website from today (7 May 2014).

At left, the website from January 2006, and at right, the website from today (7 May 2014).

At left, we have a website that is seen as a youth hub: not just about employment, but clearly about arts and culture, connecting kids, information on youth connection, setting goals for exercise through polls, health and wellness, getting involved in the community, becoming a voter, and maybe even taking a vacation overseas. At right, we have a website that is focused on services: work experience, a job bank, financial planning, benefits, careers, skills, etc. A very different emphasis.

So I was wondering – when did this shift happen? The findings were surprising. In 2006, we have a website that’s more about sharing recipes and ideas than economic outcomes, and by 2014 we have a website that’s entirely focused on employability. As a spoiler, it turns out that this was an aberration between August 2003 and late 2008 that focused on community, and before and after this period we had a website focused on economic development. How can we learn this?

One resource that we have is the Government of Canada Web Archive, which complements holdings at the Internet Archive. The latter has more systematic coverage: some Government of Canada Web Archive holdings span only a few scrapes, and I learned yesterday from tweets that there is apparently a December 2007 – December 2013 gap in the holdings. This is too bad: the Government of Canada holdings, while rarer in scrape frequency than the Internet Archive, are generally of a higher quality.

Let’s look at this youth.gc.ca site and see how it’s evolved over time.

The youth.gc.ca website, as scraped on 11 December 1997. The Government of Canada apparently liked Javascript, which is bad for us today.

The youth.gc.ca website, as scraped on 11 December 1997 by the Internet Archive.

Shucks. Quite a bit of the material was not preserved by the Internet Archive. To try to get a sense of what the page might have looked like, I decide to ‘view source’ and look at the HTML that underlies this website.

The 'view source' window, with long line wraps turned on.

The ‘view source’ window, with long line wraps turned on.

Here we can see that there was a picture of the “Rainbow Bridge” (railbridg.gif) and the menu bar, which was the image “rainbutt.gif.” It was an image map, with different areas that you could click on. The Rainbow bridge is a large international bridge connecting the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, the ALT text field indicates that the “Introductory Text” was also contained within the image. Luckily, there is preserved metadata at the top of the source.

It looks like this:


<META NAME="DESCRIPTION" CONTENT="The Youth Resource Network of Canada assists youth in bridging the gap between education and employment. Offers a directory of the best national and provincial links to sites containing information about preparing for employment and finding a job.">


<META NAME="KEYWORDS" CONTENT="self assessment interests and aptitudes choosing an occupational goal training plan development information about jobs occupational descriptions and standards labour market forecast international employment training and education canadian educational institutions canadian educational networks student grants student loans student exchanges youth events and conferences vocational training job search techniques job preparation techniques resume covering letter interview techniques where to look for work networking job opportunities national job opportunities international job opportunities provincial job opportunities jobs in Prince Edward Island jobs in Newfoundland jobs in New Brunswick jobs in Nova Scotia jobs in Quebec jobs in Ontario jobs in Alberta jobs in Saskatchewan jobs in Manitoba jobs in British Columbia jobs in Yukon jobs in North West Territories self employment how to start your own business financial resources preparing a business plan government youth services government youth programs jobs in growth youth employment">


<TITLE>Youth Resource Network of Canada</TITLE>

I have to admit, my initial reaction was wondering what this was, but it brought me back to my Web Development for Dummies childhood – this is search engine terms! If you were being indexed by Yahoo!, Altavista, etc., these tags would let them know what you wanted to have show up. So when this appeared in a search engine, you’d have the title as “Youth Resource Network of Canada” and the description a (possibly truncated) version of the description above.

As it stands, apart from menu items, this is the main information we have from the main page itself. Apart from that, the links are dead and do not work. This is all we know, from web archives, about youth.gc.ca in 1997.

But we can learn a fair amount. This was a website primarily concerned with:

  • employment for young people;
  • training and education;
  • how to find a job;
  • how to make a job (self employment);
  • where to find resources to help you do that;
  • and the Rainbow Bridge indicates ‘bridging’ the gap between education and employment, thanks to the little gem left by somebody working on optimizing their results in search engines.

This is great! It actually tells us that the modern emphasis on jobs, skills, careers, etc., is not quite an exception but rather more in keeping with the site’s original purpose. Let’s flash forward three years, to 2000. We see that the website has a new look, but it is still about employment, etc.

The youth.gc.ca website from May 2000.

The youth.gc.ca website from May 2000. (Internet Archive)

And to 2002:

From 23 May 2002.

From 23 May 2002. (Internet Archive)

And so on – yet we know, from the above website, that at some point it changed. Using the Wayback Machine’s search bar, I look to see when that change happened.

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 10.14.16 AM

The problem is hampered by the significant number of scrapes (which is, of course, on a balance a very good thing). It appears that the shift away from an employment-based site towards a youth-based hub happened sometime between July 25th, 2003 (when the site from above was still in existence) and 6 August 2003, when a redirect message moves you to the “recently” redesigned website.

Here the Government of Canada Web Archives comes to the rescue. We can get the basic outline from the Internet Archive scrapes, such as this one from 7 June 2004, with content but not images:

From 7 June 2004. One issue is that the government seemed to really like Flash, which must have been cool but is awful from a preservationist standpoint.

From 7 June 2004. One issue is that the government seemed to really like Flash, which must have been cool but is awful from a preservationist standpoint. (Internet Archive)

So we can switch to the Government of Canada Web Archive, this scrape c. January 2006, and it looks great!

January 30th, 2006 from the Government of Canada Web Archive.

January 30th, 2006 from the Government of Canada Web Archive.

Rather than being solely about jobs and employment, this version of the website was all about connecting youth. So instead of apprenticeships and exhortations to upgrade skills, we have recipes for “Pork in Chipotle Sauce.” (mmm)

Who would have thought I'd get recipe ideas from web archives?

Who would have thought I’d get recipe ideas from web archives?

To round it all up, then, when did youth.gc.ca transform BACK into a career, skills, education focused website. By January 2009, it again looked like this:

Jobs, Education, Money.. where are the recipes?!

Jobs, Education, Money.. where are the recipes?! (Internet Archive)

The exact date of the shift is unknown, but it appears to be ~ December 2008 (the Internet Archive has lots of scrape errors during this period). If I had to wager, I’d say that the idea of a youth hub to connect Canadian children was a casualty of the recession – we again returned to very simple, bread-and-butter issues for children and youth.

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