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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Digital snapshot of history
Rubble of the World Trade Center AP
September attacks: Prompted massive web activity
By BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida

Within hours of the September attacks on New York and Washington, American researchers rushed into action to capture how the web was reflecting the disaster.

The aim was to create a digital record of the surge in activity on the web related to the hijack plane strikes.

The results of this ambitious project, called the Attack Archive, have been published in a special online archive, a month after the shocking events at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon.

"It's a valuable resource that will allow us to go back and analyse in much greater detail what this really was about and what it meant," said Kirsten Foot, professor at the University of Washington, who is co-directing the project.

Profound impact on the web

The September attacks had a profound impact on the internet. Millions turned to the web to find out information about the plane strikes, while others used e-mail or instant messaging to check on relatives and friends.

Kirsten Foot
Foot: Valuable resource
Sites sprung up paying tributes to the victims or recording personal stories, while newsgroups swelled with debates and theories about the attacks.

"The upsurge of civic engagement we see evidenced on the web is quite significant," Professor Foot told the BBC's Go Digital programme.

Researchers at the State University of New York's Institute of Technology and the University of Washington realised this was an important historical record of the events.

The challenge was how to find and keep copies of the tens of thousands of pages that were appearing on a medium where sites come and go all the time.

Scouring the web

"We're scouring the web with all different kinds of search engines and search strategies to find anything that's been posted on the web that's related to the attacks," said Professor Foot.

We've made a pro-active decision to go and seek out sites from other countries, particularly Arab language sites

Kirsten Foot
People using the internet have also been encouraged to contribute websites through special software tools.

The team has made a conscious attempt to include as many sites from languages other than English and from all points of view as possible, deciding not to censor any of the content.

"We've made a pro-active decision to go and seek out sites from other countries, particularly Arab language sites or sites produced by press organisations in other countries that have made statements against us."

The project has put a personal strain on the researchers, with some volunteers having to resign as they found it all too upsetting.

The Attack Archive is a co-operative effort involving The Internet Archive, the Library of Congress, and many contributors from around the world.

The results have been published at, with a specially developed cataloguing system that allows visitors to find their way through the wealth of material with ease.

Kirsten Foot
"Upsurge of civic engagement on the web"
See also:

12 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Net surge for news sites
12 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Internet offers lifeline
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