All WARC and no playback: The materialities of data-centered web archives research

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines the Web ARChive (WARC) file format, revealing how the format has come to play a central role in the development and standardization of interoperable tools and methods for the international web archiving community. In the context of emerging big data approaches, I consider the sociotechnical relationships between material construction of data and information infrastructures for collecting and research. Analysis is inspired by Star and Griesemer's historical case of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology which reveals how boundary objects and methods standardization are used to enroll actors in the work of collecting for natural history. I extend these concepts by pairing them with frameworks for studying digital materiality and the representational qualities of data artifacts. Through examples drawn from fieldwork observations studying two data-centered research projects, I consider how the materiality of the WARC format influences research methods and approaches to data extraction, selection, and transformation. Findings identify three modalities researchers use to configure WARC data for researcher needs: using indexes to support search queries, constructing derivative formats designed for certain types of analysis, and generating custom-designed datasets tailored for specific research purposes. Findings additionally reveal similarities in how these distinct methods approach automated data extraction by relying upon the WARC's standardized metadata elements. By interrogating whose information needs are being met and taken into account in the design of the WARC's underlying information representation, I reveal effects on the emerging field of web history, and consider alternative approaches to knowledge production with archived web data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalBig Data and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023


  • Infrastructure studies
  • cultural heritage data
  • data materiality
  • knowledge production
  • web archives

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Communication
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Library and Information Sciences


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