Warning: There is a Spoiler in this Post.
Statement of Intent
It is the intent of this project to keep Homestar Runner safe. As one of the contributors to the Internet Archive commented when he/she uploaded a large quantity of HR .swf files, the hiatus was making him/her paranoid and he/she just wanted the files to be safe (see below; sorry about the quality). Homestar Runner is good clean fun, it swept the nation and beyond. Its absurdity was also its access point. It sustained on fan support alone. And so I intend to preserve it in the same way: keeping it safe, keeping it accessible, and keeping the fans involved. It is intended to be open and amenable for as long as there is new material to be added.
Content and Priorities
The files released by the Brothers Chaps in the Homestar Runner Website are not confined to simply the Flash-born .swf files or html5 files, but include numerous other file types for the multitudes of content they produced. While it is important to the project to capture all of the content of the site, it must be recognized that the releases fall into two main categories: core narrative content and auxiliary materials.
While the project will seek to maintain all the releases, the core narrative content will receive top priority. Auxiliary materials such as downloads, games and merchandise specs, while interesting, must be prioritized as secondary to the core narrative content.
The content of it site is extremely well preserved and has extensive contextualizing information created by fans. Failing to gain access to additional original materials from the creators, capturing these are the top two priorities for the project. The third priority is to try to capture how the site captured the world’s attention and spread before social media.
It is also a priority – though I initially saw it as the death of the project – to keep the fans involved. The same fans that have kept interest alive for fifteen plus years and bought the merchandise to keep the site running are the same fans who have curated such a thorough wiki that it will form the core of the contextualizing data in the next section. Preserving the content for these fans and then discounting their curatorial efforts would be arrogant – they are the experts on the subject of Homestar Runner, all we need to do is filter it into the world of GLAM.
Since we have prioritized the core narrative content as the files that must be saved and contextualized before the other auxiliary content, the first step would be to encapsulate as best as possible a Flash emulation bubble (like the WayBack Machine does now) that could render the original content in its original format without requiring the casual viewer to download outdated software. This would moreover allow all the hidden content to remain valid when subsequent interfaces, such as DVD players, render it unreachable.
With the Death of Flash and the sites recognition and migration to HTML5, the creator’s established a directive of migration. Following this directive and wishing to continue the trend of non-proprietary migration for maximum accessibility, the content should be migrated through a Content Management System, ShareStream in particular was recommended because it can handle the additional content below.
The importance of the Homestar Runner collection cannot be underestimated. Huge amounts of curation have already been accomplished by volunteers on the Homestar Wiki and this content should not be discounted. Just as the site itself grew organically, this content was created over the course of years by dedicated fans. This content includes detailed transcripts of both the original content and the DVD commentaries, any Easter Eggs and how to activate them, copious lists annotating trivia, glitches, internal and external references, as well as how the DVDs differ from the original online content. Having examined a few of the transcripts, the thoroughness is more than adequate for inclusion in a professional setting. Updates and spiffing up could be done on a case by case basis, as time allowed or changes deemed it necessary.
By using ShareStream’s features, content can be locked for licencing purposes, transcripts can be synced with video, and it produces standardized output, simplifying content migration moving forward, a must for content of long-term value. Combining in a single CMS the video, metadata, and robust contextualizing information will create not only an academic resource, but a user-developed time capsule of what was feeding into the creation of each video and where each is referenced in the larger world.
As the bulk of the content to capture already exists, much of the work will be to migrate and merge it into a single interface, standardizing inconsistencies where necessary. Moreover, each of the videos in the core content would need to be catalogued separately for the purposed of future academic research so that searches and filtering could be easily accomplished based on specific needs.
As new content is released – which according to one half of the Brothers Chaps is likely, though intermittently – the system should be open to allow for new additions in both core narrative content, auxiliary materials, and contextualizing content.
For any of the auxiliary materials that are known to be in particularly vulnerable file formats, an alternative format should be immediately sought or a video and written description of the item created and archived in its place.
To meet the third priority of the project, a data collection form will have to be created and, like many things on the internet, it will have to run on the honor system. I have chosen to call this part of the project the Leotard-Postcard project because it combines two aspects of the Strong Bad emails: postcards from his vacation email and the weapon of mass destruction that will wipe out the zombies from the funeral email. Unlike the HRwiki, it cannot be re-edited once incorrect information has been submitted. To chart the spread of Homestar Runner, the Leotard-Postcard project will be a form similar to Where’s George, the dollar bill tracking website. Linking from the HR archive, interested fans can share information about how they heard about HomestarRunner: where they lived, in what year, and how they heard. This will track the spread of the site like the zombie virus that Strong Bad inevitably contracts.
The Preservation Plan
- Acquire ShareStream license and dedicated server space to host content at Internet Archives
- Run Homestar Runner content from WayBack Machine through ShareStream interface to pull standardized files.
- Develop a file structure to mimic the homepage of Homestar Runner so that navigation of the content is as close to the original as possible – should the original site and the WayBack machine sites have both failed.
- Copy and paste data from HR wiki into individual video file catalog records bespoke metadata fields.
- Link to additional content
- The Original Site & Store
- The WayBack Machine
- Leotard-Postcard Project
- THe HR Wiki
- HR Reddit
3 Replies to “Preserving Homestar”
You’ve done a nice job laying out the importance of the content and the plan. Given that these flash files are really a way of presenting online video, I think it does make a lot of sense to plan to create derivative files of the videos in other video encodings. With that said, I’m not entirely clear what role ShareStream plays in this. If you could produce those videos, you could always just upload them to a place like the Internet Archive at which point anyone who check’s them out can simply play them in their browser. It strikes me that another option here could be to think about simply web archiving (or making sure that there are good captures) of the Homestar Runner Wiki too. But that ends up primarily being a question of what exactly you imagine your audience is going to want. If the structure of the Homestar Wiki is good enough, and if it connects to archived content on the Internet Archive, then it may be enough to just make sure that is captured and put up something like a scope and content note explaining where his content can be found and how to go about working with it. That is, you could well lean on the Archival principal of Original Order here and say that the structure of the two sites is good enough for someone to work through them and then just do a good job explaining that upfront in what would amount to a kind of digital finding aid.
The point of ShareStream was to encapsulate both the video and it’s text files into a single Submission Information Packet; I had a chance to speak with Robin Pike, UMD’s head of Digitization and Media Reformatting (and realize now that I forgot to cite her as a source in the above) and she was the one who turned me on to this use of ShareStream. UMD uses it with their special video collections, specifically the Jim Henson Works, to ensure that the textual files are permanently linked to the AV files they describe. To return to Dragan’s point from the previous, a file is just a file and without the ReadMe’s and other context, there is a significant risk of building an archive of outdated video files. The point of using ShareStream, or similar, is to keep the formats rolling to the current standard format so that valued archival content is never lost due to outdated format. With HR, since the creators have already established a tradition of migration for continued access, it follows logically that the continued accessibility of the content is the primary concern.
The Leotard-Postcard element is an excellent idea. There might be a way to build in basic quality checks to eliminate duplicate or accidentally submitted responses. Whatever survey form you use could feed or export data to a spreadsheet; then add in a spam and duplicate filtering step before publishing. Or set up a Google Form with the option to edit responses after submitting. Or just accept that errors and practical jokes will happen! But it sounds like a great way to represent an early instance of internet virality.