The story below is the English translation of the original story, written by Janske Mollen, for De Stentor, a Dutch national newspaper. (click here for the original Dutch story)
Conceived on the back of a beer coaster in a pub in Zwolle, since today it has been labeled ‘UNESCO Digital World Heritage’ by the Dutch Royal Library. The website Letmestayforaday.com of the Zwolle former journalism student Ramon Stoppelenburg will be saved forever for posterity.
The Royal Library of the Netherlands in The Hague, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB), sees it as its task to preserve websites in a sustainable way and to keep them accessible and to protect them from loss. That is why the KB archives websites that as a collection provide a ‘representative picture of Dutch culture, history and society on the internet’.
“Many of those websites contain unique information,” says collection specialist Peter de Bode of the web archive of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. “Sometimes those websites disappear when the owner no longer has the money to keep it up. Or because the technology is outdated. .”
Stoppelenburg’s website has been selected for the construction of a special KB collection of blogs. “Very special”, Stoppelenburg says. He responds via Skype from Phnomh Penh in Cambodia, where he has lived for several years. “Who would have thought, that when I was with my friends at the bar of student café, Iscribbled a few words on a coaster? I can still hear a friend wonder out loud ‘Who’s ever going to invite you to their home?’.”
The idea behind letmestayforaday.com was to see more of the world. At the time, Stoppelenburg studied journalism at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences. But he got the idea through the American website sendmeadollar.com. “But I didn’t want money, I wanted to travel.” In exchange for an overnight stay or a lift from address A to B, he would write about his adventures on his website, one of the first weblogs. After the launch of letmestayforaday.com in 2001, he received offered airfare and lodging from all over the world, he was closely followed by the international media and traveled for two years without spending a dime.
“I thought I would travel around Europe for a few years,” Stoppelenburg looks back. “But that I was allowed to travel halfway around the world?” With the help of tourism agencies and generous donors (a lady from Canada offered him Airmiles: ‘Otherwise you’ll never come to Canada’) he also traveled from address to address through South Africa, Australia and Canada. His experiences were followed worldwide and as soon as it was clear that he would visit a country, the invitations poured in.
Stoppelenburg finds it particularly special that his website is now ‘digital heritage’, because his website is in English. According to De Bode, that does not matter: “The criteria for being selected are that the information on the website should preferably be unique, that the site should be under Dutch management and that it should say something about culture, history and society. on the internet.” De Bode was also intrigued by the Stoppelenburg website: “Two years of free travel, that is so unique.”
10 million websites
KB has been working on a web archive since 2007. “In the meantime, 13,400 websites have been selected, says De Bode. “Every year, 1,000 to 1,500 are added. In total there are 10 million Dutch websites. This also includes websites with the extensions .com .eu .info. There are 5.8 million of the .nl extensions.” Archiving is not very fast, says the archivist. “That is because the selection is done manually, then the owners have to be emailed, they have four weeks to decline. Then we start archiving automatically.”
And not every website is archivable. Vlogs are mainly visual material that cannot be archived. Also because they are often on YouTube and we cannot archive that.”
Incidentally, archiving is sometimes also delayed by the archivists themselves. ,,I must honestly say that I did linger on the Stoppelenburg website for a while, yes. That does happen every now and then, when we come across something special to review.”
The fact that websites are ‘digital heritage’ is internationally recognized in the Unesco Charter on the Preservation of the Digital Heritage from 2003. “They call it world heritage”, says De Bode. “We regard it as digital heritage”. interest in websites that threaten to go offline. If that happens, we’ll lose them, and the information on them too.”