Webmasters flinch at "snapshots"

Federal Webmasters are reacting with dismay to instructions from the National Archives and Records Administration to take "snapshots" of all agency public Web pages by Jan. 20.

The Jan. 12 request gave Webmasters eight days to comply—far too little time, some Webmasters contend—and NARA is providing no extra money for work that may cost millions of dollars.

The Archives also is asking for the files to be converted into an outdated format, Webmasters complain.

Deputy U.S. Archivist Lewis Bellardo asked agency chief information officers to take Web site snapshots to "ensure that we are able to document at least in part agency use of the Internet at the end of the Clinton administration."

But what Bellardo wants "is not physically doable by that date," said a Webmaster based near Washington, D.C.

"It's going to be very difficult," agreed a Webmaster from the Gulf Coast. "I don't have the staff to do it."

"The effort is doomed," said a third. The Webmasters asked not to be identified for fear of disciplinary action.

"We're looking for a little more guidance from NARA before [we] start off down this road," said Brian Dunbar, a spokesman for NASA. "We have some real questions about whether they understand [the] scope of what they've asked for. NASA has 1.9 million Web pages. If it took 10 seconds to call up each one and take a snapshot," the effort would require 231 days working around the clock.

In addition, NARA has asked for documentation to accompany the snapshots, which would add substantial time and labor to the project, Dunbar said.

Bellardo asked agencies to store their Web snapshots on tapes, cassettes or CDs, but according to Webmasters, the standard NARA has requested for data stored on CDs is outdated.

The standard, ISO 9660-1990, would require renaming files to limit them to eight characters with a three-character extension. "Most government Web sites no longer use this rule, and rewriting all Web sites to meet this standard is ridiculous," a Webmaster said.

Others asked why backups of agency Web sites wouldn't do as snapshots. NARA instructions state that "the snapshot should not be a back up of the system."

"A backup is not a snapshot," another Webmaster explained. "It does not retain the functionality" of the original site. NARA wants a snapshot that works like the original Web site, complete with working hotlinks, he said.

NARA's call for snapshots of all public agency Web sites is widely seen by federal Webmasters as "an undoable request."

One Webmaster said, "We want to comply with all of the rules, but lately it seems like more of the rules are being made by people who really don't understand the Web very well."


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