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Analyzing the Evolution of a Portuguese Web Portal

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A brief quantitative and functionality study on SAPO.PT Investigating the historiography of the web, of a particular set of websites or even of one specific website can help shedding light on trends and delineate the specific contours of phenomena which can only become factually clear when objectively analyzed at a distance. However, this is an activity which poses several challenges to the researcher deriving from the temporary and volatile character of the object of study. As Schneider & Foot state in The web as an object of study, web content is ephemeral in its transience and in its construction (Schneider & Foot, 115).
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  1 Ana Crisostomo  –  student n. 10397124 Analyzing the Evolution of a Portuguese Web Portal  –  A brief quantitative and functionality study on SAPO.PT  –   Ana Crisostomo Student n. 10397124 Digital Methods Assignment # 2 Supervisor: Erik Borra / Bernhard Rieder 16.11.2012 ana.crisostomo@gmail.com  2 Ana Crisostomo  –  student n. 10397124 Analyzing the Evolution of a Portuguese Web Portal  –  A brief quantitative and functionality study on SAPO.PT  –   Introduction Investigating the historiography of the web, of a particular set of websites or even of one specific website can help shedding light on trends and delineate the specific contours of phenomena which can only become factually clear when objectively analyzed at a distance. However, this is an activity which poses several challenges to the researcher deriving from the temporary and volatile character of the object of study. As Schneider & Foot state in The web as an object of study  , web content is ephemeral in its transience and in its construction (Schneider & Foot, 115). Due to its inherent novelty and complexity, web archiving is still a developing field. There are no consensual criteria regarding the practices, specific requirements and, ultimately, the usage of web archives [1] . Efforts are being channeled towards different directions by archivists and researchers producing specific types of collections and studies. Among them, it is possible to find the single site historiographical approach, some special collections usually revolving around events, and national web archives focusing on a set of websites considered to hold local relevance (as defined by Richard Rogers in Digital Methods ). The current research can be circumscribed under the single site historiographical approach as it focus on the evolution of the most visited Portuguese web portal Sapo.pt [2]  as a means of illustrating some of the changes happening in the web arena in the last 15 years while narrating the particular history of the website. This approach is made possible through the Wayback Machine (WM) (http://archive.org/web/web.php)   –  a tool operational since 1996 and that can be basically   defined as an interface to the Internet Archive repository. [1]  The 2010 Researcher Engagement with Web Archives State of the Art   report from Meghan Dougherty and a partnership team from the Oxford Internet Institute and the Virtual Knowledge Studio presents a series of recommendations on the web archiving practice. [2]  Alexa reports Sapo.pt as being the 5 th  most visited website in Portugal while being 1 st  one in the ranking in Portuguese: http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/PT.   3 Ana Crisostomo  –  student n. 10397124 Archived website versions captured by the WM have been used as evidence in legal disputes [3]  and its validity has been tested by academic research [4]  so the validation question will not be developed during this research. Questions Some of the potentially interesting elements when studying a web portal with national relevance as Sapo.pt relate to the fact that the WM provides access to archived versions of the website since 1997 [5]  and that there is a considerable amount of archived versions for most years. The volume and scope of available material can also become a challenge, specially taking into account the limited amount of time available for this research, since it is tempting to trace the evolution of several aspects which can be indicators of certain general trends and particular web phenomena. To avoid such trap, specific research questions are outlined below. 1)   One question which can be answered through the layout  elements and can reflect the pace of change  on the web is how many major redesigns does the portal undergo in its lifetime? The number by itself, with no benchmark values, does not allow drawing any specific conclusion but it is still a barometer for the pace of web changes. Additionally, it is rather difficult to find solid reports on the average life span of a website design. 2)   Another question which can be answered via quantitative  indicators (at least partially) relates to content and functionality trends  reflecting a tendency to maximize or minimize the volume of information available in one page possibly reflecting the user’s [3] One of the leading cases of this legal use, as referred by Beryl A. Howell in Proving Web History: How to Use the Internet Archive”, opposes one Polish language television station to the Echostar Satellite corporation. [4]   The authors   Jamie Murphy, Noor Hazarina Hashim, and Peter O'Connor tested the face validity, the predictive validity, the convergent validity, and the nomological validity of the tool in their 2007 article “ Take me back: Validating the Wayback Machine in Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication ” . [5]  Sapo.pt was launched in 1995 as an academic project so the two initial years of activity were not captured by the WM but 1997 is indeed the first year of the commercial exploitation of the platform as indicated in their official history: http://ajuda.sapo.pt/faq.html?faq_id=13859 .  4 Ana Crisostomo  –  student n. 10397124 learned capacity (or not) to cope with an increasing amount of information. The quantitative indicators may include the number of links, the number of words and the number of images in a webpage. 3)   One last interrogation can follow to which extend are Google’s decisions, in terms of content and functionality, reflected on a national portal by drawing a comparative analysis between the evolution of the Directory  at Google and at Sapo.pt f ollowing the investigation produced in 2008 by the GOVCOMORG FOUNDATION on Google And The Politics Of Tabs [6] . It would be of interest to understand if the Portuguese portal, being the privileged local point of entry to the web, would take the same approach on the Directory as the global search engine. Method In order to be able to illustrate and describe the evolution of the Portuguese web portal Sapo.pt, a combination of tools was utilized to produce a time lapse video and answer the aforementioned questions. The information source was, as referred previously, the Internet Archive via the WM interface. At the time of this current investigation [7] , when querying the WM for the URL www.sapo.pt, the tool indicated that this website had been crawled 3.084 times from 8 th     October 1998 to 14 th  July 2011. The time distribution of the crawls was rather irregular: in some years the website had been crawled less than ten times and in other years the WM crawler had reached that same URL in more than a hundred occasions. However, all years from 1997 to 2011 were represented in the Internet Archive regardless of the amount of information captured. The WM was not queried directly but via a tool named Internet Archive Wayback Machine Link Ripper [8]  which provided a list of all the archived URLs in the WM. In the case of the Portuguese portal, the 3.084 crawls over 15 years enabled the archiving of 982 page versions. [6]  Illustrated by the video https://movies.digitalmethods.net/google.html .   [7]  The WM was queried on 12/10/2012 so this is the date of the URL list used in this study. [8]  https://tools.digitalmethods.net/beta/internetArchiveWaybackMachineLinkRipper/ 
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