Websites at Risk – Archiving information on human rights, governance and peace

Websites at risk

I created and launched Websites at risk yesterday as a simple yet effective means through which to archive information and knowledge produced on the web in Sri Lanka on human rights, peacebuilding and democratic governance.

This has been on my mind for a while ever since I was appalled to be told that the website of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) completely shut down, without any notice, once it left Sri Lanka in early 2008. Everything on it – all their situation reports, press releases, CFA violations statistics, briefings and special reports are lost, perhaps irrevocably.

It’s this kind of information loss that is anathema in a peace process and for a serious scholar and historian of peace process, borders on the catastrophic.

As I note on the new blog,

A litany of issues is to blame. These range from an incumbent regime that is viciously intolerant of alternative narratives and perspectives on war and peace to a disturbing lack of awareness of, emphasis on and interest in securing information and knowledge for posterity by NGOs and other content producers, including governmental processes and actors. There is also a significant lack of any sort of business continuity planning amongst NGO and civil society actors in Sri Lanka. Most never learn, even when disaster strikes once.

Having archives of this nature is also helpful for students and researchers, since once downloaded, the entire contents of a website are available to browse offline, without any need for an Internet connection.

Design considerations

  • I chose WordPress because is is easily and effectively scaleable, is extremely reliable and not hosted in Sri Lanka.
  • I also chose it because it is much harder to block this specific site. The case of India after the Mumbai train blasts for example suggests that Governments are not averse to blocking entire blog sites. Doing so however guarantees international headlines – so it is hard to brush it under the carpet.
  • The WordPress database itself is kept as small as possible for easy portability.
  • No graphics at all are used in the site.
  • The archives are standard ZIP files that open on any PC – Windows, Mac or Linux.
  • All the archives are hosted on www.box.net. I bought a year’s worth of storage for around US$ 70 and uploaded the archives there. Considerations that weighed in favour of box.net were ease of use, access, reliability, familiarity with the system, a good feature set and security at a relatively cheap cost. It also offers unlimited downloads for each file. Box.net also offers WordPress integration, which I haven’t leveraged at the moment.
  • The name chosen is also scaleable. Since the essential idea is a valuable one for other countries, the idea was that each country or region would use sitesatrisk and at the end plug in their name – e.g. sitesatriskuk, sitesatriskkosovo.

Please visit Websites at risk and pass the word around to colleagues who will I am sure find the information already archived on it useful for their research on issues central to peace and governance in Sri Lanka.