1. Give us the GIFs: Crowd-Curating Iterative Born-Digital Heritage at Scale
Rasa Bocyte, Brigitte Jansen and Johan Oomen | Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision | The Netherlands
Archiving born-digital collections
Sound and Vision established its digital archive of radio and television broadcasts as of 1999. It started collecting web video in 2008, websites in 2013 and video games in 2016. Since 2012, the research team has been investigating possibilities for archiving more complex interactive websites and virtual reality productions. Initially, from a collection strategy point of view, born-digital collections have been treated as “contextual” materials that support and add value to the radio and television collections which were regarded as the core collection of Sound and Vision. Given the many changes in media production and consumption, this differentiation between core and contextual collections has become obsolete. In the latest Collection Policy, published earlier this year, a more substantive order was adopted. Topical pillars now form the foundation of the collection policy. These are populated with collections that encompass various media types that range from linear television to web-video and physical artefacts to video games.
Reconceptualising the Collection Policy into four broad pillars that encompass media in all its possible shapes and sizes, opened the way to include new artefacts that would have never been considered as part of a core collection before. In particular, it lowered the archival threshold for born-digital artefacts like GIFs that previously would not have been recognised as a prominent element in the digital media landscape.
GIFs have become an inseparable part of digital culture, spreading like a virus across the web. Despite that, GIFs have not been widely recognised as cultural heritage and have not found their way into archival collections. We are eager to challenge this. We consider GIFs as a broader cultural phenomenon that appropriates easily-recognisable cues from audiovisual culture to convey messages that immediately move us.
They are part of a remix culture online that takes fragments from popular television shows and renders them into memes with silly captions, they show footage of celebrities with funny facial expressions that we can all relate to, or they capture memorable moments that we want to watch over and over again. The list goes on and on, but what all of these GIFs have in common is that they serve as a reflection of the current zeitgeist in the digital communication sphere. As an organisation tasked with preserving Dutch media culture, we cannot overlook GIFs as an important part of it that needs to be preserved and represented in our collections.
So what kind of GIFs could be collected for a Dutch GIF collection? That turns out to be quite a tricky question. GIFs have no national or thematic boundaries. Good luck finding GIFs tagged “Dutch” or “Netherlands”! Is it even possible or necessary to determine the “dutchness” of a GIF? We have scavenged through the web to find what we think best matches our selection criteria. But we needed help figuring out what fits into the collection and what doesn’t. And this is where the help of our users comes in! On the 26-28th of October 2018, we used our Instagram channel to let the Dutch public decide what should be included in the GIF collection at Sound and Vision. This way, the audience received the opportunity to cast their vote and choose which GIFs should be preserved for the future.