Searching the Lost Archives of Whim

That may sound like the title of some Indiana Jones flick or sword-and-sorcery novel, but it’s really how I spent an entertaining — if a bit obsessive-compulsive — hour this morning. I’ve written it up in some detail for possible use in a “how to find stuff on the Internet” lecture for one class or another.

UPDATE: Some 2012-2013 information added below.

It all started when Arielle Retting, the new editor of the campus Internet magazine called Whim, e-mailed to ask whether I knew where to find its back issues.

(Spoiler: If you just want to see the back issues,  follow this “Old Whims” link — or read to the bottom to find out how it got there.)

I had never been involved with WHIM, except as a reader. Around the time I came to Radford, RU Whim made the transition to a WordPress CMS site. Before that, student programmers and designers had been creating a homemade, fresh-design-every-year site, not the most efficient way to build a Web publication, but a great way to learn and  show what they could do… And they did some very creative things.

You can still do very creative things within WordPress, but the students who built entire sites clearly made theirs with pride and a sense of history. (And, I suspect, a practical goal of keeping their past creations available, so that their personal portfolios could link back to them during  a job-hunt.)

Although the publication is going strong at http://ruwhim.com, it previously used http://www.radford.edu/whim

A “redirect” replaced the last actual issue of Whim that had used the university flat-file server as its home page. Goodbye history.

To find out what went on at that site in previous semesters, I used my two favorite Web tools to track down some of that history: Google and Archive.org, and this blog item is here to show students how to do the same.

First, a Google “site” search:
Putting “site:radford.edu” at the beginning of a Google search for “Whim” found me a whole directory full of archived years on the university’s flat-file Web server:
http://www.radford.edu/~archive/season01/
http://www.radford.edu/~archive/season02/
and so forth, up to
http://www.radford.edu/~archive/season17/

Next, using the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive:
The original “home” page for Whim’s own archive has been deleted, but I found a copy at archive.org — and it wouldn’t take much to re-code the archival copy to make it point back to the complete originals, not the archive.org’s sometimes-incomplete copies. I gave that a try, using an editor called TextWrangler with global search-and-replace to insert full link URLs, then pasted the results into a WordPress page.

Those results are now on my “WordPress Tips” menu above, and — as of 2012 — have been copied over to Whim itself. Original Old Whims here and Old Whims at WHIM.

How they got there

The archive.org spiders brought back some pages of http://www.radford.edu/~whim almost every year from 2000 to 2006; you can see he results here:

http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.radford.edu/~whim

(How did I know where to start looking? Like any person or organization on campus, Whim’s original address was http://www.radford.edu plus its name.)

You also can find scattered bits of Whim if you add the season numbers like “season 18” in quotes to the end of a Radford site search in Google: site:www.radford.edu whim “season 18”

Examining search results also gave me a hint of the original “flat file”
directory structure, which is still in place for the last edition that used it:
http://www.radford.edu/~whim/tech/
http://www.radford.edu/~whim/life/

A working “Issues” dropdown menu on those pages goes deeper into the site, which looks like parts of “Season 18” and  “Season 19” (2006), the year before I got here. Links to the “inside pages” still work, despite the “refer” block on the old “home page”  http://www.radford.edu/~whim

For keeping an archive of more RECENT history, the student editors will have to get to know  WordPress better than I do. Perhaps there’s a way to export a “flat file” copy of the current site structure each year. I was able to do that kind of conversion with my old blogging software (see http://stepno.com/oldblog), but haven’t had to try it with WordPress.

If you know a site that says how to do that, please post a link in the Comments here!

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.

Posted in Education, History, Internet, Radford, Search, WebDesign
7 comments on “Searching the Lost Archives of Whim
  1. This was a good read, Bob. Thank you for your efforts to restore the Whim work! I’m surprised that the current managers wouldn’t want access to the volumes of data, particularly because once imported into a database, it would be searchable and probably amusing to see the differences in student life & culture over the last 14 years. (My God, has it been that long!?)

    You’re exactly right- there were only a few CMS tools from 1996-2000 during the infancy of Whim, and they were horribly expensive. (I worked hard to secure a budget in ’98 – We got a $13 white board. It was fantastic.) By ’99, a few blogging applications popped onto the radar, the technology just wasn’t there. It would have taken longer to customize a blogging app to act as a CMS than to just build it ourselves as we wanted it. (As an example, after graduation, I worked at a company who purchased a CMS tool for $320,000. Slightly more customized, but I bet with Expression Engine or Joomla, I could replicate the whole thing for $315,000 less!)

    Another point worth mentioning is that we had some motivated staff who were into programming in HTML and Flash, (Shockwave and FrontPage in the very early days) and they were tremendously talented. Our staff were English majors, art majors, IT and programming geeks, advertisers, and photographers. Part of our process WAS the challenge. We faced our challenges and learned solutions to our problems on our own. I suppose that’s part of the disappointment, although I’m sure the new staff has their own challenges that we didn’t back then.

    Still, it’s great that you were able to pull together some archives. I may have them (up to 2000) in a folder somewhere as well. As a tip, before radford.edu it was runet.edu – might want to see if Archive.org finds more based on that domain name.

    • Bob Stepno says:

      Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Brian! In fact, the student who wrote to me asking about the archives is Whim staff, trying to bridge the pre-CMS era and the WordPress version. So far, they’re making pretty creative use of WordPress. (More than I am on this page, for sure!)

      Speaking of creativity, your Brickworkz is amazing!

  2. Greg Norman says:

    Agreed with Brian – thanks a lot for pulling this together! I’ve always valued the archive and being able to see how Whim evolved over the years, for better or worse. 🙂

    I actually think it’s great that they’ve adopted WordPress as the engine for articles, comments, etc. There’s so much great open-source and free software out there now, and using and customizing such packages really does prepare you for how things work in the real world. We develop some pretty advances web applications where I work, but when we need a CMS, messageboard or document management system, we go to open-source or off-the-shelf products. No need to re-invent the wheel.

    Having said that, I still think there’s opportunity for creative ways to learn the technologies that drive the web, even beyond customizing WordPress. Whim doesn’t have to stop at the articles. Perhaps there are other cool uses of technology, video and Flash that they can explore. I remember when we started Whim, we worked on a concept of a “Whim Network,” where students could have their own homepage and connect and share stuff with friends – all pre-Facebook. Obviously that ship has sailed, but it shows that there are new and interesting directions they could take things.

    • Bob Stepno says:

      Thanks, Greg. It’s starting to sound like Whim should have its own alumni page on Facebook! (Or maybe it already does and I just haven’t noticed.)

      Feel free to point other Whim alumni to the archive page. I see Whim itself is now linking to it, presumably until they post something similar within their own WordPress system. I thought of mine more as a “proof of concept,” adapting the original HTML table so that it would fit in a WP space. In my COMS 326 class this semester I’ll stress the “portability” of code a little more.

  3. In response to all 3 of you,

    I just took over the job during winter break and am sad to report that Whim is not as wonderful as you left it. It sort of fell to the wayside over the past 2 years, and I came in last semester to try and, for lack of a better word, save it. Unfortunately we have much bigger issues on our hands than the Archives. When I came in we lacked a full staff, good content and we haven’t exactly moved forward along with the other online student publications in the country.

    We have a staff again, and we’re working back up to our potential, but it will still take some time to get it where we want it to be. From what everyone else told me (besides Bob), the archives were “gone” once we switched to WordPress. John Cordiano, another former Executive Director, helped me track these down as well. We’re trying our best to create our own Archives file on the WordPress site, but we unfortunately need to focus on the present before we organize the past.

    Again, thanks for helping to track down these archives, Bob. I can’t tell you how many unanswered e-mails there were sitting in my inbox at whim@radford.edu when I took over, and I’m glad I could finally answer them.

    If you have any comments or suggestions about Whim for me, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

  4. The seasons I presided over (20 – 22) we had our own CMS called Cantaloupe. It was PHP-based and we had to buy our own server space because RU refused to give us more when we needed it. Therefore it’s not hosted on the RU server anywhere because it never was. It auto-archived all the content and the database has two year’s worth of our content.

    I’ve been going crazy trying to find it. I thought I made a full backup of the site structure and the entire database with the content in it before I left, but it seems to have vanished. Over a year ago I spoke briefly with Zach Woods, the director who preceded me, and he said he had a full backup of Cantaloupe in the Whim office. You have no idea how thrilled I would be to find this. I’d be happy to host it for you if it’s found. It was my baby.

    WordPress is great. It’s a fantastic tool if you know how to use it. When I heard Whim was switching from my buggy CMS to WordPress I was thrilled; then spent those two years Arielle referred to somewhat disappointed. I’m looking forward to see what the new staff does with it.

    I will look through my box of RU files and disks RIGHT NOW for my Seasons 17 – 19 backups. They might be able to fill in a few gaps.

    Arielle, I’d be happy to help you develop pretty much anything if you need. We all look forward to toasting Whim’s continued success.

  5. Bob Stepno says:

    Jenny, thanks for the great feedback… I’ve forwarded your notes to Arielle.

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