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Temps et temporalités du Web

Valérie Schafer

Le Web d’avant

A brief Outline of Temporalities of the Web Online and in Web Archives

Niels Brügger


By using the idea of “differred time “from the 1985 exhibition Les Immatériaux as a common thread this chapter sets out to identify some of the temporalities of the web. The first section briefly outlines three general ways of explaining “temporality", the second section presents a five-leveled approach to the web. And the following two sections each unfolds some of the ways in which we can understand the temporalities of the web in its online form as well as when it is preserved in a web archive.


Web, time, media, online web, web archive

Texte intégral

The simultaneous existence of different times.
Presence of the differed and absence of the immediate.
Time is neither unique, nor lineary,
each point in time suddenly unfolds multiple moments.
Jean-François Lyotard, 1985

Temps différé – Deferred time

  • 1 Voir Brügger (1993) for a thesis summary.

1In the Summer of 1985 I was studying the work of French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard to prepare my Masters thesis about Lyotard’s chief work Le différend.1 To get a break from my reading my girl friend and I headed for Portugal, and on the way we stopped in Paris for a couple of days. As it turned out this stop-over would have a lasting impact on my academic life many years later, including on the following brief reflections on the temporalities of the web. The reason for this was not the many tourist attractions, but rather an overwhelming and groundbreaking exhibition at the Centre Pompidou/Beaubourg – Les Immatériaux – curated by Jean-François Lyotard and Thierry Chaput.

  • 2 Les Immatériaux took place from 28 March to 15 July 1985. A two volume catalog was publish (...)

2By the use of visual and auditory means the exhibition wanted to “make the tension between the dissolving project of modernity (of emancipation, of progress) and the questions raised by an emerging postmodernity tangible”. The museography was innovative, “walls” were made of grey semitransparent cloth hanging from the ceiling and not reaching the floor, the rooms were combined in zones, and visitors were wearing headsets where the sound changed when moving from zone to zone. The exhibition combined philosophy, literature, modern and old art works, and all sorts of technologies that were new at the time, including a collective online writing experience where some thirty authors such as Jacques Derrida, Bruno Latour and Daniel Buren had been drafting small pieces of text to a central server for two months, and the results were publicly available on Minitel during the time of the exhibition.2

  • 3 See the plan of the exhibition room « Temps différé » in Les immatériaux: Album et inventa (...)

3In particular one room/zone cought my attention to such a degree that I remember it clearly today. It was entitled “Temps différé – Deferred time", it was located towards the end of the exhibition, it did not attract much attention from visitors and it could easily be overlooked, especially because of its pared-down look, compared to the rest of the exhibition.3

4It consisted of a long corridor divided in two by one of the grey cloths hanging from the ceiling, and in each of these two smaller rooms were nothing but a chair, a camera focused on the chair, and a television screen in front of the chair – an identical setup in each room. But what was not visible was the differed time between the two rooms. It worked like this: a visitor came into one of the two rooms, s/he maybe sat down in the chair to look at the television screen, but to her/ his surprise what was shown on the screen was not a self-portrait, but rather what was taking place in the other – identical – room, but with a five seconds of delay. When the visitor(s) realised this they reacted (by surprise, by laughing, or something else), and then this reaction was transmitted to the other room as well, still delayed, then followed by a new reaction, and so on. In all its simplicity this exhibition room made it perceptible to visitors that the new media technologies placed them in something that looked like a recognisable temporality, but that was, in fact, always already differed, a “time out of joint", as Gilles Deleuze puts it in a contemporary text (Deleuze, 1984: vii). Or to quote Lyotard from the catalog about this room: “The simultaneous existence of different times. Presence of the differed and absence of the immediate. Time is neither unique, nor lineary, each point in time suddenly unfolds multiple moments.”

5The “Temps différé” from Les Immatériaux convincingly condensed a fundamental characteristic of mediated temporality in 1985, and maybe without realising its reach it heralded a general tendency that would only be more and more prevalent in the following years. The high expectations for what was at the time a promising new networked medium, the Minitel, may not have been met (Schafer and Thierry, 2012), but other new media forms took over, in particular the World Wide Web (in the following: “the web”) where the landscape of differed temporalities became even more complicated. This chapter sets out to investigate the different and differed temporalities of the web: What are the different forms of time of – or on  the web? Reflections on how time is embedded in the web are relevant since they may help us get a better understanding of the web as a societal and cultural artifact as well as they can be important to include in detailed analyses of specific parts of the web and its history.

6The chapter follows the structure of the three semantic entities of its title “Temporalities of the Web”. The first section briefly outlines some general ways of explaining “temporality", including temporality and media, the second section presents one way of conceptualising “the web”. And the following two sections, the core of the chapter, each unfolds some of the ways in which we can understand the “of” by identifying the temporalities of the web in its online form as well as when it is preserved in a web archive.

Time, temporalities and media

7Understanding “time” is one of the corner stones of philosophy, together with “being", “matter", “human", and “existence”. The following brief remarks are by no means a comprehensive account, but shall only constitute an initial framing of the approach to temporality and time in this chapter.

8Time and temporality are entwined in the sense that temporality is what is related to time. Thus, if something is characterised by a specific temporality it conveys a specific form of time, or has a specific relation to time. So temporalities simply mean different forms of time, different relations to time, and temporalities of the web is thus the different forms of time of – or on – the web.

Time and temporalities

9“Time” can be explained in a variety of ways, but the following three general approaches can serve as an overall framing (see also Kern, 1983: 10-35).

10First, time can be understood as the period that extends from a previous event to a later event – this happened, then this, then that, etc.; time as the distinctive mark between “earlier” and “later", what connects two events. Time in this understanding is often related to something observable, to objects in the outer world. Representatives of this explanation of time can be Aristotle and Einstein.

11Second, time can be understood as the continuous changing by which the present becomes the past as part of an inner subjective experience of time – a phenomenological approach, related to the human subject as a pro-ject, the human as pro-jecto, throwing oneself into the future (Gewor-fenheit), being always already extended between the present, the past and the future; time as a continuous flux where the present announces the future and contains the past. An understanding along these lines is found in the works of Bergson and Sartre.

12Third, time can be conceptualised as one of the fundamental constituents of the environment for the perception of objects/subjects as such (together with space); the pure “grid” that lets events “take place” and “take time", in brief, an Anschauungs form, a “form of intuition” as formulated by Kant.

13Since in this chapter the intention is to understand an object in the outer world, the web, time and temporality are understood in line with the first of these three explanations, that is the period that extends between an earlier and a later event, related to observable things in the world. That said, the observable time can come in two forms. On the one hand the natural, concrete time, related to the observable events of nature or of celestrial bodies, in particular related to the turning of the globe – changes throughout the day (morning, day, evening, night) or throughout the year (Summer, Autumn…). And, on the other hand, the abstract time, the time of mechanic clocks, time tables, and standard time that is disconnected from the time of nature (Kern, 1983: 10-108; Giddens, 1990: 17-21). Hence, in the present context temporalities of the web mean the ways in which the web as an object in the world embeds abstract time.

Time and media

14Throughout the history of media time has been entangled with media objects on at least two levels: that of the medium in itself and that of the media content. In its specific medium materiality each type of medium carries a specific way of “interpreting” its relation to time; in continuation of Harold Innis’ idea of communicative “bias” (Innis, 1951) one can maintain that, for instance, print media are time consuming when it comes to distribution compared to broadcast media, but they last longer because they exist as copies printed on paper in contrast to radio or television that disappears once it is aired. But media also relate to time in the content they actually convey by the use of semantic entities such as words like “now", “today", “breaking", etc. that each in their way establish certain times and temporalities, as seen within news media, for instance (Bell, 1991: 147-211; Rantanen, 2009: 1-18; Bødker and Brügger, 2017).

15In continuation of Harold Innis and the so-called medium theory tradition (Meyrowitz, 1985) I have elsewhere used the term “mediacy” to characterise each medium’s special way of being a medium, and thereby of relating to time, among others (Brügger, 2002: 43-52). In continuation of this line of thought it can be argued that each media type has a specific mediacy, and that any text (in the broadest sense of the word, including images and sound) has a special way of being or constructing itself as a text, which I have termed its textuality: “‘Mediacy’ refers to the special mediumness that characterises the medium as a medium, irrespective of who uses it, and irrespective of its content. Textuality refers to that which characterises the text as text, irrespective of its subject, and irrespective of who has produced or uses it”. (Brügger, 2010: 7). Thus, in this understanding “textual” does not refer to the actual meaning of words and sentences, such as “now", “today", “breaking", but rather to the ways in which a text is constituted and organised as such by the use of semantic, formal, and interactive elements (Brügger, 2009: 121-122).

16In the following it shall mainly be discussed how the web’s mediacy and textuality relate to time. Thus, focus is not on the meaning of the content on the web, but rather on how different temporalities are entwined in the web medium and in its ways of presenting itself as a text to its users.

The web and web strata

17Before going in more detail with the temporalities inscribed in the web as a medium and as a text a few overall reflections about how the web can be studied are needed. Studies of the web can be focused in a variety of ways, including hard- and software, the technical infrastructure, and the semantic content we see in our browsers, just as a variety of methods may be used, from methods inspired by STS and sociology to content analysis, or discourse analysis, just to mention a few.

18The web is in many ways a heterogeneous and chaotic phenomenon, which is why ways of sub-dividing it in manageable and coherent units is needed for analytical purposes. From a purely technological point of view the web medium is nothing but billions and billions of computer files, distributed on millions of web servers, which we can then retrieve and have presented in a browser at each our computer. However, understanding the web only as files is not the most fruitful approach if one wants to examine how the web as a medium and as a text presents itself to its users. With a view to examining the web and its temporalities as they are actually available to the users in a web browser a subdivision of the web in five analytical web strata shall be used in the following (Brügger, 2009: 122-125). The smallest entity is the web element, such as a piece of written text (heading, paragraph, etc.), an image or a video. The web element is placed on a web page, the second strata, that is whatever is presented within the frame of one individual browser window. The third strata is the website, which is composed of interrelated web pages (the interrelation can be underpinned either semantically, formally, or by the enabling of movements such as a hyperlink). Websites may cluster around a certain topic, an event, a specific group of web producers or users, or the like, whereby they constitute the fourth web strata, the web sphere. And, finally, the web as a whole may be studied, that is everything that transcends the other strata such as the technical infrastructure, the domain name system, and the like.

  • 4 The web as a whole is excluded to save space in this chapter.

19With this analytical stratification of the web as a stepping stone the temporalities of the web can be investigated by focusing on the web page (including elements), the website, and the web sphere.4 Since the online and the archived web each have their different sets of temporalities the two will be investigated separately in the following.

Temporalities of the online web

20To highlight the specific characteristics of the online web’s temporalities it is contrasted in this section to another media type, namely the printed newspaper. Obviously, the web is much more than something that looks like newspapers, but the general points put forward in the following about temporality apply for most forms of the web.

Web page with elements

21Printed newspapers come with multiple temporalities, some of which are related to the media materiality whereas others are related to the forms of the content. Once the copy of the newspaper is bought, the temporality of the newspaper page is one of immediacy: the page is there immediately as part of the copy. As to the textual elements on the page they either tend to be biased towards a “now", such as still images, or they are presented as a progressive chain of words that convey a temporal progression (word after word), independent of their semantic content.

22In contrast, the web page as such is not immediate in the same sense as a newspaper page, although it may appear so to the user. Time actually elapses during the time it takes to load the web page and its various elements, such as writing, graphics and images, and this is the most fundamental temporality of the web as a medium/text. Compared to print media the web page as such unfolds in time, although we usually do not experience this today, but in the mid-1990s when Internet connections were slow the web was often called “World Wide Wait", simply because it took some time to load a web page. As for the web elements, once they are loaded they can also embed different temporalities, from the different temporalities of images and writing which the web page share with printed pages to elements such as audio and video that unfolds in time by creating a “movement” on the webpage in the form of moving images (or around the web page if only sound). In addition, elements of interaction such as clicking links and action buttons, scrolling and the like also unfold in time on the page.


23If we then look at the collection of pages that constitute the copy of the newspaper or the website, respectively, and how the collection is established in each case, the newspaper has only one type of temporality, namely that of turning pages, that is a temporality that is a function of the copy and its binding. In addition, the newspaper copy in its entirety is situated in the time of the calendar in an unequivocal manner since it has one time of publication only, usually a date, previously also a time of day.

24In contrast, the website as a collection of interrelated web pages comes with more and differed temporalities. On a website the act of “turning pages” takes the form of jumping from web page to web page by pressing any web element with a hyperlink, so the temporality of moving around in the “copy” is not related to the entire page as such, but rather to a randomly selected element on the page: an image, a heading, a sentence, etc. The result is that pages may contain a variety of ways of manifesting the temporality of moving around. In addition, more publication dates are immediately accessible on the same website, typically in the form of an archive of articles originally published in previous “copies", and they can be accessed in a variety of ways, either randomly through a search box, or in a dedicated menu item Archive, or even in a more integrated form, for instance as embedded in todays news items, such as “Related stories", “Read more” and the like, with previous news items shown with heading and snippet hyperlink. Print media may also have references to previous copies, but these copies are not immediately present, as actually embedded in toto in today’s newspaper. Thus, websites tend to convey differed temporalities where the past is immediately nested in the present in a very concrete way, either as a historical depth that is there, but not necessarily used actively (as the “Archive”) or as a living past constantly and seamlessly recycled as part of the present day of publication.

Web sphere

25When moving to the level of the web sphere the equivalent in the print world would be printed newspapers about the same topic or event within a certain time span. Locating all newspapers about a given topic, and “moving” from one newspaper to another takes time, basically because space is an obstacle: one has to locate the other newspapers and get hold of them in a world of physical geography. This means that following a reference takes time, both here and now and in the recent past related to whatever topic is investigated. Thus, providing copies of an array of todays or yesterdays interrelated newspapers to establish a “newspaper sphere” is feasible, but time consuming. However, the network of references between newspapers is temporally stable because references do not change once they have been printed.

26With the web locating and moving around in the web sphere from website to website is less time consuming because the websites are all searchable across the web and in many cases they are also interlinked with hyperlinks. Locating and following a reference is therefore characterised by immediacy, present web pages as well as web pages from the past can be retrieved here and now. However, given the changing nature of the online web the link target, that is the web page to which a reference points may have been changed or even disappeared within a very short time interval, which makes the web sphere as such temporally ephemeral.

27In summary, on the level of the web page, the website, and the web sphere a great variety of temporalities is “inscribed” in the online web: the time of retrieving/loading a webpage and its elements, the co-existence of very different temporalities inherent in each of the elements – image, writing, audio, video –, the temporality of browsing web pages on the same website via hyperlinks, the immediate integration of the past in the present (archives), the immediate locating of and “moving to” other websites, and the immediate presence of the recent past on other parts of the web – but also its ephemerality and possible disappearance.

Temporalities of the archived web

28The archived web shares all the temporalities of the online web, but it also supplements these with a range of temporalities that are a function of the archiving process and of the preservation in a web archive. Hence, in terms of temporality the archived web is identical to, yet more complex than the online web.

29As with any historical source from the past all archived forms of the web brings the past into the present, and therefore the archived web as such is characterised by the temporality of the nexus between past and present. And as any other collection the web archive has a temporality of its own regardless of how the archive was established since it is continuously changing its archiving procedures – be that the archiving strategies, technical solutions, or other measures taken to be in step with the ever changing online web. The web archive of yesterday is not identical to the web archive of today. Therefore, not only does the web archive combine the past and the present of what was archived, it also combines the past of its own making in the present.

30These fundamental temporalities that a web archive shares with any collection of past material are supplemented by temporalities that are specific for the archived web, first the temporality related to the archiving process, second the temporalities of what was archived.

Temporalities related to the archiving process

31The process of archiving the web comes with a temporality of its own. I have elsewhere called this “the dynamics of updating” (Brügger, 2005: 22-24), that is the fact that the online web – such as a website – may very well change during the time it takes to archive it. If the archiving process starts at a given web page, for instance the front page, and then moves through the structure of the website, the front page may have changed if one goes back to it later during the archiving. And it is very hard to say if, where, and when this may have been the case. And a similar process can affect any given page on a website. This form of temporality related to the archiving process is quite unique to the web – other media types do not share this feature. Newspapers and other print media are put on shelves, and are not temporally changed in this process, and radio, television and other audio-visual media are recorded without temporal changes during this process. But on the level of the website the process of web archiving is – potentially – taking place in differed temporalities.

Temporalities of what was archived

  • 5 To save space the archived web is not compared to the printed newspaper in this section; f (...)

32Web archiving can be defined as “any form of deliberate and purposive preserving of web material” (Brügger, 2011: 25). This broad understanding of web archiving highlights that the online web can be archived and preserved in a web archive in a variety of ways, and it is relevant to stress this array of possible ways of collecting and preserving the web since each of the different forms of archiving and preserving entails different temporalities for the web that is later to be found in the archive. Some of the most widespread ways of collecting and preserving the online web are: 1) Screen shots and individual web pages in a static form; 2) Screen movies; and 3) Crawled web. These three forms of web preserving each come with their specific temporality, and even with temporalities that are a function of being included in a collection.5

Screen shots and individual webpages in a static form

33A screen shot has preserved whatever was visible on the computer screen at a given point in time, whereas the web page in static form is preserved by using software dedicated to retrieving a specific web page and preserving it as a file (usually a pdf-file). The screen shot is created independently of the web – it is an image of the screen – whereas the web page in static form is related to the web since it retrieves the relevant web page based on its web address in the form of a URL that is inserted in the archiving software. The individual screen shot and webpage in static form as well as the collection of screen shots/static web pages each in their way embed certain temporalities.

34The individual screen shot and static web page are both still images, and therefore they have the temporality of an image: each image has captured a “now”. They may still tell a story but not in the form of a narrative with start, middle and end. In addition, there is no possibility of moving backwards or forward in the individual screen shot, and none of the “moving” web elements of the online web are present: no audio, no video, and no interaction possible (however, in the static web page hyperlinks may be working, but they will lead to the online web).

35When screen shots of, for instance, the same web page/website are compiled to form a collection another form of temporality is added to the screen shots by inserting each individual “now” in a chain of events – first this web page, then this, and then this… –, but no immediate “jumping” from one screen shot to another is possible. The collection of screen shots is very much like a comic strip: one image frame followed by another image frame, and so forth.

Screen movies

36A screen movie is a filmed record of what took place on the screen, either in total or in part (voir Brügger 2005: 49-53). As with screen shots a screen movie is created independently of the web, it is a movie of the screen, and is thus not directly related to the web as software, such as html-code. The individual screen movie and the collection of screen movies also come with each their temporalities.

37Since the screen movie is a movie it has the temporality of a film: it unfolds as a narrative in time, but in a linear, one-directional time with a start, middle and end. Therefore, as opposed to the screen shot, a screen movie makes it possible to move backwards or forward. However, compared to the online web, this temporal navigation – moving backwards or forward in time – is the only way of navigating a screen movie. Since it is created independently of the website as such, it has another temporality compared to the online website. One could argue that in a screen movie the time-space of moving from one web page to another on the online web is transformed to a temporal movement only. In contrast to the screen shot the screen movie can include the “moving” web elements of the online web such as audio, video, and interaction, but not freely accessible in their initial online temporality, but only as inscribed in the linear temporality of the screen movie. The screen movie is bound to the movements of the individual who initially created the movie.

38Having a collection of screen movies of, for instance, the same web page/ website adds other temporalities, because each screen movie comes with its own temporally bound narrative of the website in question, and they have to be combined. And the same goes for screen movies of different websites: they also have to be combined to compose “one” narrative. Still, as with the screen shot, immediate “jumping” from one screen movie to another is not possible. The collection of screen movies is not like a comic strip, but rather similar to the many bits and pieces of film that a film director has at hand when combining individual scenes to form a coherent movie (voir Brügger, 2005: 61-62).

Crawled web

39The screen image and the screen movie have in common that they are temporally “flat”. “What you see is what you get” – a “now” or a temporality unfolding as a narrative –, but one does not get more and differed temporalities combined in the individual screen shot or screen movie. There are no temporal ’depths’ in the screen shot and in the screen movie. However, this is the case with the third type of archived web: the crawled web.

  • 6 Crawled web may be displayed in a number of other ways, depending on the access possibilit (...)

40Crawled web has ben archived by the use of web crawling software that contacts a web server with a request for specific web pages and elements located at a specific web address (a URL) which are then downloaded as html or other file types. The software may have been configured to identify and follow hyperlinks from the URL in question and archive the link target, and this process can be repeated. The result of the web crawling process is a compilation of html files and other file types from the web server, and they can, among other things, be recombined and displayed in a web browser with clickable links and other forms of interaction, much like the online web, as it is done in most web archives of today, by the use of the Wayback Machine which sits on top of the collected files.6 The individual crawled web page as well as the collection of web pages each embeds specific temporalities.

  • 7

41Apparently, the individual web page, as displayed in the Wayback Machine, looks very much like the one that was once online. And, apparently, has the same temporalities as outlined above. However, when displaying the archived web page with the Wayback Machine this is not necessarily the case. The reason for this is that if the elements on the web page cannot be found in the archive from the exact time the web page was archived the Wayback machine fetches the elements that were archived as close as possible to this point in time. Therefore, a given web page as presented in a web archive can be a very complex patchwork of elements from days or months before or after the webpage itself was archived. This point can be illustrated by the Memento Time Travel feature. In the Memento Time Travel7 a given URL is inserted, and the software looks up this URL in various online web archives, and patches a version that gets as close as possible to what the webpage may have looked like at the indicated date in the past. However, this web page may be patched of elements from several web archives and spanning several weeks or even months.

42What the Memento Time Travel illustrates across web archives usually also happens within any web archive using the Wayback Machine. And if the web archive in question is open and online even the present may be included. If a hyperlink on the archived web page points to a web server from which an element should have been retrieved, but the element was not archived, this element will be displayed if the web archive is an online web archive, and if the web server to which the link points is still online. This is often experienced with weather forecasts where a Winter forecast is displayed on a web page archived in the Summer time, but it is a general challenge with any online web archive (as is for instance the Internet Archive). As previously described in relation to the online web the loading of an online webpage takes time, but once it is loaded it is “flat” in terms of time in the sense that every element which is retrieved to be combined to form the web page (images, banners, written text…) originates from the same time, namely the time they were “asked” for at the web server. This is not the case with the archived web page. On the contrary the archived web page contains differed times “in depth”: ranging from the date of archiving, dates prior to and later than this date, and even stretching out to the day the web archive was visited, when the web page “asks” for elements, and gets them as they look today. Therefore, individual web pages displayed with the Wayback Machine come with each their individual “depths” of time. It would therefore be fair to maintain that when the individual archived web page is displayed, it is composed of several temporal layers, several – differed – temporalities. And, in the main, users are not aware that this is the case. What appears to be a web page with one temporality – as the online web –, in fact, may hold several temporalities.

43As mentioned the individual web page can only be replayed in total because it is part of a greater web collection from which elements are retrieved from different points in time. But a collection of crawled web pages also adds yet other temporalities to the archived web material, simply because it is part of a collection. The two most important types of differed temporalities caused by the collections are the continuum of (partly) overlapping temporalities, and the temporal inconsistencies of the hyperlink structure. These two shall be elaborated in the following.

44Very often there exist more versions of “the same” web entity in a web archive, for instance an archived web page may have been archived from different points in time with very short, and even overlapping time intervals. It is not unusual to find web pages from the same website archived at noon, and again at six in the evening, and again maybe at midnight. Or even the same web page archived at these hours. These archived instances come with each their temporalities, but they may also be overlapping. If one wants to reconstruct a website as it looked at a certain point in time by assembling the available web pages from various – but overlapping – times, one may have to come to terms with the existence of several differed temporalities within the website. The website may not be reconstructed as a point in time, but rather as a continuum of overlapping temporalities.

45The temporal inconsistency in a collection of web pages is a function of the existence of hyperlinks, and of the fact that the archiving process has taken some time. Thus, since a hyperlink source and the corresponding hyperlink target are not necessarily archived at the same point in time the link structure as a whole becomes temporally inconsistent, and it may ultimately span the different temporalities of the entire collection. The result is a hyperlink network with differed temporalities (voir Brügger, 2013).

46All in all the collection of crawled web is neither like a comic strip, since each “image frame” is not “flat” as is the screen shot – the collection of crawled web comes with several temporalities. Nor is the collection of crawled web like the many screen movies which have to be combined to form a coherent “movie” of, say, a website – crawled web does not unfold in a linear, narrative time as does a screen movie. In contrast, the temporalities of a collection of crawled web pages is best understood as co-existing layers of glass mosaics – co-existing and transparent layers of small pieces of stained glass.

Consequences for web research – concluding reflections

47This chapter has focused on the temporalities of the web at the nexus of the web medium and the web’s textual levels. In conclusion, it is relevant to reflect on how the temporalities of the web affect the use of the web within one specific use form, namely that of the academic study of the web.

48When studying the online web the time of retrieving and loading a web page and its elements may in itself draw the web researcher’s attention to the simple fact that a web page is not created as one unity in the same way as it is known from other media types, such as print media; on the contrary it is patched together of fragments and this patching actually unfolds in time. In addition, knowledge about loading time of web pages may be relevant to include in historical analyses since it can help explain why certain elements of expression, such as images were not often used at certain times in history, simply because slow Internet connections made the loading of the web page too time consuming.

49The seamless co-existence of web elements with very different temporalities – image, writing, audio, video – makes a web page more complex to study than other previous media types. On the one hand, the different forms of expression come with each their temporality, and, on the other hand, their co-existence next to each other on the same web page entails that a web page may have different temporalities, ranging from a narrative unfolding in writing or moving pictures, to the “now” of an image.

50The browsing of web pages on the same website via hyperlinks also embeds more and fluctuating temporalities. The always present potential “dynamics of updating” means that a website does not unfold in a uniform time, it does not convey a temporality that is unified by the binding of the copy as with the printed press, or by a progressing chain of events as with broadcast; the website does not constitute a temporally unified phenomenon, it rather constitutes a temporal continuum, with different temporalities within the same unit.

51In continuation of the above the often seamless integration of an archive of the past in the present tends to make studies of the present historical, although they may not be so from the outset. Previously, the inclusion of the past in a study of the present was optional and based on the scholars deliberate choice of doing (or not doing) this, but with the web the past often becomes part of the study, unnoticed, and with no possibility of opting out. In this sense the past is imposed on the present.

52Finally, the scholar studying the online web may experience a tension between, on the one hand, the temporality related to easy and rapid search/ find and getting access to other web entities – everything is just a click away –, and, on the other hand, the ephemerality of the web where what is found may no longer be there, or may have changed. The rapid establishing of a web sphere is counterbalanced by its elements being moving targets.

53The scholar who wants to use the archived web in his/her study is challenged by other temporalities.

54First, it is important to have the inherent temporality of the web archive as such in mind. In many cases web archives do not communicate and document their changing archiving strategies and policies, which is why it is important that researchers using a web archive are conscious about the history of the archive and its possible impact on their study.

55Second, it is important to have the temporality of the archiving process in mind, that is the continuous asynchrony between the time of updating of the online web and the time of archiving, two temporalities that it can be hard to reconcile, and that leaves the researcher in the dark when he/she wants to establish what the online web actually looked like in the past. Although it may be difficult to get around this problem it is important at least to acknowledge it, and maybe make use of a web philological approach, where different versions are compared (voir Brügger, 2008).

56Third, the web archive scholar must acknowledge the many different temporalities that are embedded in the different forms of the archived web. The screen shots and static web pages are created as a “now", but they may be difficult to date, just as combining them can be a challenge since they may overlap in time. The temporality of the narrative of the screen movie enables the study of temporal web elements such as interaction and moving images, but at the same time the unilinear temporality of the movie entails that the scholar has to follow the way through the web taken by the creator of the screen movie, just as a combination of more screen movies may have to deal with insurmountable temporal overlaps. As for the crawled web the scholar is challenged by: a) the many layers of temporalities on the individual webpage if seen through the Wayback Machine, b) the continuum of overlapping temporalities which is even more complex than with the screen movie because of the many temporal dimensions of the archived website, and c) the temporal inconsistencies of the hyperlink structure in the collection of crawled webpages, which affect studies of websites and web spheres.

57All these different temporalities associated to the archived web pose a challenge for the researcher who wants to study the web of the past, in particular if he/she wants to establish what a website looked like in the past. A first step forward is to acknowledge the existence of the different temporalities in the different forms of the archived web. The next step will be to promote the development of tools to help manage the different temporalities and to enable that the researcher can make as informed choices as possible. This may then lead to reflections on how bad one can accept the object of study to be, which ultimately depends on the research question.

58The installation “Temps différé", Deferred time concluded the exhibition Les Immatériaux – it was the very last room – by heralding the future of new media temporalities, and without knowing it it also produced a blueprint for this brief outline of temporalities of the web. We now live in a future where the differed temporalities cannot be contained in a simple setup with only two sets of chairs, cameras and television screens. On the contrary we live in a mirror room of computer screens with multiple, different, and differed temporalities. And for academic studies of the web this new media environment does not necessarily call for new methods, but it may call for re-evaluations of existing methods in the light of the many differed temporalities of the web.



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Brügger Niels, “Theoretical Reflections on Media and Media History", in Brügger Niels, Kolstrup Søren (Eds.), Media History: Theories, Methods, Analysis, Aarhus, Aarhus University Press, 2002, p. 33-66.

Brügger Niels, Archiving websites: General considerations and strategies, Aarhus, Center for Internet Studies, 2005.

Brügger Niels, “The Archived Website and Website Philology: A New Type of Historical Document?", in Nordicom Review, 2008, 29 (2), p. 155-175.

Brügger Niels, “Website history and the website as an object of study", in New Media & Society, 2009, 11 (1-2), p. 115-132.

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1 Voir Brügger (1993) for a thesis summary.

2 Les Immatériaux took place from 28 March to 15 July 1985. A two volume catalog was published, Les immatériaux: Album et inventaire, and Les immatériaux: Épreuves d’écriture. Catalogues, press releases and more about the exhibition can be found atériaux. For an evaluation of Les Immatériaux 30 years later, see Hui and Broeckmann (2015).

3 See the plan of the exhibition room « Temps différé » in Les immatériaux: Album et inventaire, Editions du Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1985: catalogue.pdf

4 The web as a whole is excluded to save space in this chapter.

5 To save space the archived web is not compared to the printed newspaper in this section; for a detailed comparison between the two, see Brügger (2016).

6 Crawled web may be displayed in a number of other ways, depending on the access possibilities provided by the web archive.



Centre for Internet Studies, and NetLab, School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University, Danemark. Niels Brügger is professor in Internet studies and digital humanities. Research interests are web historiography, web archiving, and media theory, and within these fields he has published widely. Recent publications include Web25, a themed issue of New Media & Society, and The Web as History : Using Web Archives to Understand the Past and the Present (edited with Ralph Schroeder, UCL Press 2017).

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