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Developing and maintaining artefacts and knowledge

December 18th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Some of you will have noticed that this site was unavailable for a couple of days last week. When we investigated we found that the database on the server had become overloaded. And, although their may be other reasons, the major problem was that we were hosting some 15 sites, many of them ‘legacy’ European project sites. Furthermore because of issues with incompatible plug ins and the time involved, we had not managed to keep all the instances of WordPress, which hosts the sites, updated.

The European Commission requires us to maintain sites related to funded projects live for at least three years following the end of project funding. Given that most projects are of two to three years duration, this means the minimum time a site is up is five to six years. Yet the requirement masks a bigger problem. How do we preserve and build on the knowledge and ideas developed through project work – be it research or development.

Obviously we try to make sure that anything particularly important is included in the Pontydysgu site. And of course, many projects build on previous work. Most of our sites are archived by the Internet Archive. Reports and products are often published on social networking and Web 2.0 sites and can still be found there. Yet I cannot help thinking that many of the outcomes of useful and potentially important work undertaken by project funding are being lost over time. Perhaps the EU could itself do a better job of archiving and recording the work undertaken through its projects. In some areas, for instance around Open Educational Resources, there has been progress with the development of open repositories and in federating such knowledge stores.

However, many of the products of project work are probably ephemeral, or more important in the processes and interactions, than in the artefacts produced. And there needs to be some process by what knowledge, not only that on the internet, is allowed to gracefully degrade. The problem is that we do not really have any rubrics or processes for deciding what should be maintained and what should be allowed to degrade. Or indeed, if artefacts are important enough to maintain, how and in what spaces to do that.

We probably need yet another project to investigate these questions! Or, if anyone has a good answer, I would be very interested to hear from you.

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