There is a saying that ‘variety is the spice of life’ and this is certainly true when you think of the types of hobbies and interests the UK public engages in. There are the hobbies we have all probably heard of such as train spotting or metal detecting and there are the more obscure ones such as Poohsticks or Hand Dryer appreciation. Websites are a useful tool for enthusiasts to communicate and share their passion with the world. At the UK Web Archive (UKWA) the Online Enthusiast Communities collection aims to:
‘Capture how UK based public forums are used to discuss hobbies and activities and serve as a place for enthusiasts to converse with others sharing similar interests.’
This collection includes such a diverse and wonderful selection of websites and forums. I can honestly say that curating this collection has truly been a joy – there are probably very few jobs that allow you to look at The Letter Box Study Group (a website about the history and development of British roadside letter boxes) as part of your tasks for the day.
Differences I have noticed
As a curator you get to explore lots of sites and you begin to notice differences and similarities between websites. It is interesting to see the variety in website design and levels of expertise and to me it feels like this is reflected in the websites that are archived.
I have noticed lots of online communities using a variety of website builders. The huge diversity in tools appear to have made it easier to create more professional looking sites with ease. Compared to older sites, you notice:
- the increased use of images
- cleaner feel
- neutral backgrounds
- minimal text
- occasional e-commerce sections
However, it is nostalgic to see some of the older more ‘blocky’ sites, as I do remember the days of dial-up internet access and early web sites. To me, forums tend to have a similar feel and the designs does not deviate greatly from each other.
I have also found how often a website updates intriguing. Some are regularly updated whereas others appear to have been untouched for several years. This may reflect that many websites are run by volunteers balancing other commitments. Regularity of updates is an important factor as it will contribute to deciding how often we capture the site – it is the skill of a web archivist to judge this accordingly however these frequencies can be updated.
Some of my Favourite sites
One of the joys of curating this collection is that you get to experience sites that are really unique that you would not normally explore. I wanted to highlight a few of the sites that particularly caught my attention, specifically from the ‘Miscellaneous’ sub section as this is my personal favourite.
Pylon of the Month
This is a site dedicated to electricity pylons highlighting a monthly winner. These could include current pylons or historic images and entries can come from the UK and beyond. Images are usually accompanied by some interesting history or facts.
This site is beautifully designed and celebrates modernist architecture in Britain. There are fifty illustrated images with accompanying information about the history of the buildings and photographs taken by Richard Coltman.
Cloud appreciation society
This site was launched in 2005 with the aim of ‘bringing together people who love the sky’. It has an international membership with members submitting images from all over the world. They also run events, cloud related news and in 2019 they are contributing to the non-profit FogQuest project.
The online enthusiast community is also very witty, there are some fantastically named sites and forums such as:
- Planet of the Vapes – a forum about vaping
- DIYnot Forum – a forum about DIY
- Frit-Happens! – an online community for glass blowing and glass crafting
Curating the online enthusiast collection has been incredibly enjoyable. Having to actively seek new sites has made me more aware of the variety of hobbies and diversity of interests the public engage in.
As this collection develops, more sites relating to the variety of hobbies and interests will be captured and persevered for future generations explore, enjoy and research. However, due to the size, complexity and technological challenges of archiving all UK websites, some may get missed or we just do not know about them . If there is a site that you think should be included then you can nominate it on the ‘Save a UK website‘ page of the UKWA.