Preface to First Web Edition

When we conceived the idea for Excavating Occaneechi Town in 1993, the world of computers was very different than today's. Windows 3.0 was the latest Microsoft operating system, hypermedia applications were platform-specific and used proprietary file formats, and the world wide web barely existed. We looked at the full range of available options and chose to use Asymmetrix Toolbook (running on an IBM platform) as the software with which to create our electronic monograph. Building a web version never even crossed our minds. Once we made this choice, we had to stick with it to the end. The first edition of Excavating Occaneechi Town was published on CD-ROM by the University of North Carolina Press in 1998.

Over the six years it took to develop and publish the CD, many things changed. The Windows operating system underwent multiple overhauls (from version 3.11 to Windows 98), computers became even faster, monitors grew larger and could display more pixels, and, most importantly, the web exploded into widespread public use. In light of these developments, we could see the first edition's limitations. One major problem was that our application would not run on Macintosh computers, which were quite common, especially in schools. And we were concerned about our CD's longevity; in other words, how long would our publication remain usable in the face of changing technology?

The issues of longevity for electronic works are very different than for conventional print. The main determinant of longevity for a book is how long the paper on which it is printed will last. For electronic works, the longevity of the material holding the information -- in this case plastic -- is irrelevant, because the technology used to read the information changes much faster than the material itself degrades.

One aspect of this problem has to do with the hardware needed to store and read the information in question. For example, since the personal computer was invented, we have seen a progression of storage technologies from 8-inch floppy disks, to 5-inch disks, to CDs, not to mention zip disks and all the changes that have occurred in hard disk drives. Fortunately this aspect of the problem is easy to solve. One simply must keep copying the information to new storage formats and media as they emerge; because the information is digital, there is no degradation in quality or content as each copy is made, and the copying itself is simple.

Technological issues involving software, however, are much harder to overcome. As operating systems evolve, there is no guarantee that newer versions will remain "backward compatible" beyond their immediate predecessors. Fifty years from now, the Windows operating system may no longer exist, and even if it survives, its future version may no longer be able to run a program that was compiled in 1998.

Thus, even as our original CD went to press, we were already thinking about its longevity and looking for a way to extend the life of our work. The solution we chose was to create an HTML version that could be read with any standard web browser. Of course, there's no guarantee that 50 years from now the web will be the same as it is today or that browsers will be compatible. However, given the enormous world-wide investment in current web standards, we felt it likely that one of two scenarios would play out: either backward-compatibility would be maintained or utilities would be created to convert existing HTML pages to whatever new format would emerge. Thus, creating a web edition seemed like the best bet to insure longevity. A web edition would also have the advantage of being accessible from any computer running either Windows, Macintosh, or Linux.

Our goal in creating this edition was to maintain, as much as possible, the "look and feel" of the original. We largely succeeded, although some compromises and changes were necessary to accommodate the new format. For the sake of longevity and compatibility with all browsers, we also decided to keep the format of the work as simple as possible; in other words, we used only the most basic HTML tags and deliberately stayed away from the "bells and whistles." The only chapter in which this policy was violated was, by necessity, the Electronic Dig. Here, we relied on the Java programming language, the longevity of which remains to be seen. The text of all the substantive chapters remains the same as in the first edition, although we took this opportunity to correct a few typographical errors. The only major changes are in the Electronic Dig and its accompanying tutorial; we did not reproduce some of the data-download features of the original Electronic Dig and the tutorial was modified to account for this difference.

The development of this new edition has taken many years and was helped along by many people whose contributions we wish to acknowledge. The enormous technical challenge of converting the original CD to a web-compatible version was undertaken by two experienced programmers, Mike Shoffner and Merlin Hughes, whose skill is evident in the final product. Additional technical help was provided by staff of the Metalab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Paul Jones, Andre Burton, Serena Fenton, Max Gustashaw, Patrick Herron, Jason Moore, Fred Stutzman, and Don Sizemore. Mark Simpson-Vos and David Perry of the University of North Carolina Press helped shepherd us through the various publishing issues involved in this transition, most of which were new to all involved. Cat Brutvan and Marcus McKoy, also at UNC Press, designed and tagged the new home page for this edition. And Elena Steponaitis provided both technical and typing help at many points along the way. To all these individuals, we express our sincere gratitude.

R.P.S.D., P.C.L., H.T.W., V.P.S.
July 28, 2003