Reading WARC Records with Mathematica

Our notebook. Click through to find it.
Our notebook. Click through to find it.

Our project team uses a number of languages: Scala with warcbase, lots of shell commands when manipulating and analyzing textual data (especially social media, as Nick and I wrote about here), and Mathematica when we want to leverage the power and relative simplicity of that language.

William J. Turkel and I have been working a bit on getting WARC files to play with Mathematica. For larger numbers of files, warcbase is still the solution. But for a small collection – say a few WARCs created with – this might be a lighter-weight approach. Indeed, I can see myself doing this if I went out around the web with WebRecorder, grabbed some sites (say public history sites or the like), and wanted to do some analysis on it.

Bill and I developed this together: he cooked up the record to association bit (which is really the core of this code), and I worked on getting us to be able to process entire WARCs and generate some basic analysis. It was also fun getting back into Mathematica, after living in Scala and Bash. Read more

Investigating Curatorial Models as the Marshall McLuhan Centenary Fellow in Digital Sustainability

Most importantly, I'll be getting to work in my favourite building in North America!
Most importantly, I’ll be getting to work in my favourite building in North America!

Great news! Starting on July 1st, I’m the inaugural Marshall McLuhan Centenary Fellow in Digital Sustainability, held at the University of Toronto’s Digital Curation Institute, which is housed in their Faculty of Information. The DCI is led by Christoph Becker, who I’m really looking forward to working with more over the next 12 months (as well as his great graduate students).

What does this mean? Basically, over the next year I’ll be hosting the following public events in Toronto. This will primarily be taking place in the January – May timeframe, and I will be in Toronto roughly once-a-week during this period. It is also an excuse to be physically proximate to great collaborators: folks at the DCI, Toronto libraries (especially Nich Worby who I’ve worked with quite a bit), and York (where my frequent collaborator Nick Ruest is based).

  • Workshops: I’ll run a web archiving analysis workshop in Toronto, probably focusing on the warcbase platform – perhaps riding the coattails of great virtual machine and repository that Nick Ruest developed. I would also like to run a workshop on Twitter archiving and analysis.
  • Give an Invited Lecture: I’ll be giving a Coach House Institute lecture on the findings of the Fellowship research project, discussed below;
  • Organize a Marquee Event: I’d like to help the DCI with bringing in a high-profile invited speaker to discuss web archiving. Maybe I can score some free canapés.

Most importantly, I’ll be carrying out a research project on qualitative comparisons of web archival content, specifically the kinds of content curated using a social media approach versus a manually-curated professional one. Read more

Web Archives and Born-Digital Sources Workshop: Challenges, Future Steps, and the Field

On June 8th, I had the pleasure of attending “Born digital big data and approaches for history and the humanities,” a workshop hosted by the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. You can see the full program of the day here. It’s part of an AHRC research network that I’m part of.

With Peter Webster and Jason Webber, I participated in a roundtable discussion on web archives, moderated by Jane Winters. Jane asked us four questions:

  1. What do you think is unique about web archives, particularly in relation to other types of born digital data?
  2. What are the key challenges facing researchers when working with web archives?
  3. What should we be doing that we’re not currently doing, in order to ensure that web archives can be accessed now and in the future? What are the barriers?
  4. Talk about the most interesting project/piece of research you’ve been involved with.

I had a few responses: Read more

New Article: “An Open-Source Strategy for Documenting Events”

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 1.08.31 PMNick Ruest and myself have a piece that’s just come out in Code4Lib Journal. The article takes readers through the (a) why Twitter matters for event archiving and future historical research; (b) how you can collect data yourself; and (c) how you can analyze the data. You can read the abstract below, and check out the article here!

As always, hope you enjoy reading it, and if you have any comments, questions, or anything, we are always happy to hear from you.

Abstract follows after the fold. Read more

New Article: “The Great WARC Adventure: Using SIPS, AIPS, and DIPS to document SLAPPs”

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 12.38.11 PMNick Ruest, Anna St-Onge, and myself have a piece that’s just come out in the open-access journal Digital Studies / Le champ numérique. The deliberately acronym-heavy title introduces an article that really takes us through the process of (a) creating a web archive; (b) preserving and providing access to the files; and (c) running some basic analysis on it from the perspective of a historian. While some of the text analysis done in the rear bit of the article predates more recent warcbase developments, I think it hopefully provides a great and useful conceptual approach.

You can find the article here, and abstract below. Hope you enjoy it. Read more

Obama and Twitter: Actually, Mr. President, We think Social Media Will Matter in the Future

Obama tweeting in happier days.

I don’t normally take partisan positions here at, especially in the rough and tumble world of American politics. But sometimes a line is crossed, and I cannot stay silent! 😉

Speaking at a journalism event in late March 2016, American President Obama had this to say according to the Washington Examiner.

Ten, 20, 50 years from now, no one seeking to understand our age is going to be searching the tweets that got the most retweets, or the post that got the most likes … They’ll look for the kind of reporting, the smartest investigative journalism that told our story — lifted up the contradictions in our societies and asked the hard questions and forced people to see the truth even when it was uncomfortable.

I guess all this really shows is that President Obama doesn’t follow us on GitHub or on Twitter, or else he’d know that Nick Ruest and I have been tackling these very questions. Read more

New Article: “Lost in the Infinite Archive”

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 11.55.04 AM
My latest article, “Lost in the Infinite Archive: The Promise and Pitfalls of Web Archives,” has just been published in the latest issue of the International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing. My sincerest thanks to Jennifer Guiliano and Mia Ridge who edited the special issue on Complex Datasets in which it appeared. You can check out the entire table of contents here if you want to see the other fantastic contributions that are in the issue!

The beautiful, canonical version of record can be found here on Edinburgh University Press’ page. In accordance with my own personal values and the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications, you can find the author’s accepted manuscript version here in the University of Waterloo’s institutional repository.

What’s it about? The abstract is below, and if you’re interested, please do read it. Would love to hear your thoughts. Read more