De Digitale Stad was a pioneering website of the early Dutch web. Historical study of its remnants has required extensive system knowledge, which may pose a new challenge for digital humanity researchers. The study of remnants is covered by the metaphor of “archaeology.” In view of software character of web artefacts, the metaphor “web archaeology” is implicitly limiting. An approach is proposed that considers the working character of the software, “software archaeology.” In a case study it is shown by the example of “metadata dating” how the software archaeological approach can be brought to bear on born digital artefacts. The case illustrates the historical value of extracting time-related metadata from digital artefacts, “metadata dating.” Metadata dating is performed on three archives related to De Digitale Stad. By aggregation of time-related metadata, new historical insights into De Digitale Stad have been gained. Whereas the early internet has often been presented as ever changing, novel and revolutionary, the results bring to light strong continuities in the usage patterns shown in De Digitale Stad. Contrary to expectations, it is observed that the citizens of De Digitale Stad, were primarily interested in the preservation of the traditional content in their files, and less in the results of their own coding efforts.
Robert Jansma (2022) Metadata dating the digital city: a software archaeological approach, Internet Histories, 6:4, 452-472, DOI: 10.1080/24701475.2022.2109285