Conserving Community: The trAce Online Writing Centre
by Dene Grigar and Nicholas Schiller
Welcome to the files from the trAce Online Writing Centre website, 1995-2005. Found here, currently, are four “pulls” of the trAce website from the Internet Archives’ Wayback Machine. Planned also is the complete website, from 2005, reconstructed from the original files provided us from the trAce server.
Anyone associated with the trAce Online Writing Community would quickly recognize the rationale for reconstructing its website: trAce was the premier online community for new media writing in the UK and beyond, offering conferences, online courses, workshops, readings, and many other activities. Numerous pioneers of electronic literature/digital writing were nurtured by and/or participated in trAce––Alan Sondheim, Kate Pullinger, Mark Amerika, Christy Sheffield Sanford, Lawrence Upton, to name but a few. In essence, trAce pioneered what it meant to be an online community in the nascent days of the World Wide Web. Reconstructing files for the platform it used as the central site of its many activities, therefore, makes it possible to conserve that community, providing scholars with the opportunity to study the essays and e-lit works trAce published in its journal, frAme; or explore The Noon Quilt and other projects it undertook; or read the journals kept by the new media writing residents it sponsored as they learned how to write for the new medium of the web. Additionally, as one of the first and most vibrant online communities of the period that took advantage of the affordances of the web to build and sustain itself for 10 years, trAce provides scholars with the ideal site for studying the notion of community as it played out beginning with the introduction of the browser through the rise of net art and the use of Flash and other visually and kinetically-oriented software as mediums of expression.
About the trAce Online Writing Community Website and Our Project
As Sue Thomas, the founder of the trAce Online Writing Centre, writes in her introduction to the re-constructed frAme site , the community emerged in 1995 with the development of the publication Cyberwriting. Shortly after the booklet was released, Thomas and her Research Assistant Simon Mills decided to put it online. That website went live a few months later, debuting at the Virtual Futures Conference, at Warwick University, England, in May 1996. By 1997 Thomas had received funding to build an international online community. trAce grew over the next eight years into the premier organization for new media writing, offering conferences, online courses, workshops, readings, and many other activities. After Thomas left Nottingham Trent University in 2005, the site initially remained online. Eventually, however, the server became outmoded and, by 2016, had to be taken offline. Electronic Literature Organization stepped in and began managing trAce’s archives via the preservation work undertaken in the Electronic Literature Lab. When the files from the server were sent to us in the lab, and we went through them to determine the best method for putting them back online.  We discovered that the trAce site had been built on a medley of platforms, including ColdFusion (CF) and ASP.NET. That said, because Mills had coded trAce’s journal, frAme, in HTML, we were able, in the fall 2018, to reconstitute the six issues associated it. 
To show both the vibrancy and output of the trAce community, we decided to 1) use the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to take four snapshots of the website over the 10-year period and make those files easily available to the public, and 2) convert the CF files to a contemporary software program so that the website, as it was sent to us from the server, remains accessible to the public.
About the Internet Archive Files
In an effort to capture snapshots of the growth of the community and changes to the website reflecting the community’s development, we chose four “pulls” from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.  While trAce was founded in 1995, it did not have an online presence until 1996. The first complete “crawl” of the site occurred a few years later, on October 12, 1999. To capture a snapshot of trAce midway between the 1999 date and its last days in 2005, we decided to to take two pulls, one from December 15, 2000 and June 3, 2002. The final pull took place on September 2, 2005. Below is a link to each of these sites. Note that we have not intervened to fix external links, missing images, or other issues.
trAce over the Course of a Decade
What should be interesting to scholars is the community’s growth over the decade, starting with 286 files and 2.5 MB in 1999 to 19,632 files and 732.4 MB in 2005.
Size: 2.5 MB
Number of Files: 286
Size: 19.3 MB
Number of Files: 1,798
Size: 64.8 MB
Number of Files: 6,302
Size: 732.4 MB
Number of Files: 19,632
Investigating the Layers of the trAce Web Server
It has been a goal of our work in ELL to get the backup we were given of the trAce web server into a position where we could once again host it live on the web. To that end, we spent some time investigating how we could recreate the ColdFusion (CF) server environment that was used to interpret the dynamic content of many of the trAce pages. We obtained a vintage copy of ColdFusion software and worked at building a CF friendly web server in virtual machines and in a test server on campus. As we worked, we learned about Lucee. Lucee is an open-source community that provides a ColdFusion interpreter that does precisely what we need in terms of hosting the CF content of the trAce site. We built a server on our test site and installed Lucee and then pulled our archived backup copy of the trAce site out of digital storage and transferred it to the test environment.
At this point, we had an ugly realization. Not only is trAce composed in CF as well as HTML, pointed out previously, it is also built from the ground up in an ASP.NET environment. ELL’s server infrastructure is built on the LAMP model (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP), and we don’t have a ready machine that uses the Microsoft IIS environment and nor the staff with experience administrating IIS servers. This should be only a minor setback, as the process for going forward remains testing the site in Virtual Machines and on a test server before going live; it will, however, slow us down as we learn how to administrate vintage servers and web content in a Microsoft IIS environment.
As we sift through the strata of the trAce archived site, we can see different phases of the sites’ development and different design and architecture preferences of the people who made the site into a living community. While a slow and winding process, this is ultimately a rewarding one, giving us many opportunities to stop, question, and reflect on the works we see from the perspective of the architecture that housed and organized them. We’re looking forward to more updates in the future as we dig through the folders of the old trAce site and build the server that can unlock the treasures buried inside divergent web technologies and anachronisms.
Sue Thomas mentioned on the Facebook post 6 April 2020 that trAce was active on Facebook page for several years. Its page is located at https://www.facebook.com/traceonlinewritingcentre. The last post at the site took place on 29 September 2018.
 Sue Thomas. “Introduction.” trAce Online Writing Community Archival Site. ELO Repository. https://elo-repository.org/trace/introduction.html.
 Greg Philbrook, the Electronic Literature Lab’s Technical & Instructional Specialist and Dene Grigar, its Director, undertook this phase of the work.
 The website for trAce’s archives was created by Austin Fields, then, an Undergraduate Researcher in the lab at the time. The reconstruction of the individual issues and e-lit works were done by other Undergraduate Researchers: Holly Slocum and Mariah Gwin.
 Slocum, now the lab’s Project Manager, and Philbrook did the work to develop which dates to conduct a “pull” and to do the work, respectively.
 Nicholas Schiller, the lab’s Associate Director, did this portion of the project.