ELL Undergraduate Researchers using Rhizome.org’s Webrecorder to preserve Flash work during the trial run

Week 3 of our data collection in preparation for the grant saw the ELL Team continue to fine tune the list of Flash / Shockwave works to include in the project and engage in a trial run of the steps for preserving these works.

After eliminating redundancies in the list since some works were published in several different venues, it now includes 477 and features many of the most important Flash / Shockwave e-lit published in the seven journals, three anthologies, and two showcases that the ELO has collected for its repository. 

Fine tuning also saw us revisit all of the works and, then, categorize them by level of complexity for preserving them via Rhizome.org’s Webrecorder tool. Level 1 contains all works created with Flash for which we have files locally saved in the ELO Archives. Most of these are fairly linear and involve one .swf file. This would include, for example, Claire Dinsmore’s “The Dazzle as Question,” published by frAme. Level 2 reflects works that contain many files or were produced as frames, or offer many versions (high and low res, different languages), or contain pop up windows. An example of this category is Zenon Fajfer’s “Ars Poetica,” published in the ELC3. Finally, Level 3 includes multi-linear works of complex interactivity, whose files are accessed via an external URL or the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine or files where users must download Flash file, Shockwave, RealTime Media (.rm files). We also put all works created with Shockwave in this category because they necessitate more tools and attention, particularly with assistance with Rhizome.org, for preserving them than the Webrecorder. Peter Howard’s “Poem Interactions,” published by Word Circuits, constitutes an example of Level 3.

If you have been following my posts about the data collection process and are unfamiliar with the issues surrounding the future of Flash, or what I call A Great Loss to Our Cultural Heritage , then you may be wondering why we are pursuing a grant to preserve Flash / Shockwave electronic literature. Put simply, the downhill slide of support for Flash has finally reached the bottom with Adobe’s decision to discontinue support for the Flash Player starting in 2020. There will be ways to limp along for a while for those creators and net art scholars who wish to access Flash, but for the everyday, mainstream user–you know, the ones for whom commercial software aims its sights–Flash will be essentially obsolete. For those of us who marveled over Donna’s Leishman’s “RedRidingHood”, published by the ELC1 or Robert Kendall’s “Faith,” published by Cauldron & Net, the demise of Flash signifies a major cultural loss. While ELO has collected 477 works of e-lit, there are countless more works produced as games, interactive websites (remember Jim Carey’s, anyone?), news stories, ads, to name a few media types that may not be part of a preservation project and, so, will simply disappear. This means that an entire decade of human expression both artistic and otherwise will be lost to the future. Because Flash also influenced the rise of web-based journals in the mid-1990s to late 2000s, its demise also impacts the integrity of online publishing. A case in point: 39 of the 50 works published by Poems That Go are all created with either Flash or Shockwave software. So, if you visit the journal in a year, you will be able to access only 11 works.

I don’t know about you, but I see this as a problem for scholars now and in the future who wish to study net art, interactive media, electronic literature, digital publishing, and the work by artists whose work was thought highly enough to be published in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.