Academic journal article Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations

Discontinuous Change in University Web Sites: The Relative Importance of Reasons for Change

Academic journal article Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations

Discontinuous Change in University Web Sites: The Relative Importance of Reasons for Change

Article excerpt


In the fall of 2001, the Internet Archive ( made available "the Wayback Machine," a free tool for gaining access to archived versions of over 10 billion Web pages. This site provides a capability for viewing many, if not most, Web sites published to the Web from 1996 to the present. Our exploration of this archival site led us to look at many Web sites and how they had changed over time.

In a prior study of official US state government Web sites--i.e., those having the Web address, where xx is one of the 50 two-letter state codes--we noticed that 48 of 50 had undergone at least one discontinuous change in the period 1996-2001 (Ryan, Field, & Olfman., 2003). We defined a discontinuous change as a sudden, major shift in a Web site between two points in time. We make a distinction between discontinuous changes and incremental ones, such as those that occur with normal maintenance of Web sites. Discontinuous changes to sites involve more than mere alterations in appearance, such as changes in the number, nature, and organization of pages that constitute a site.

While doing this study, we wondered what the reasons for discontinuous Web site changes could be. What might cause an organization to change its Web site in a discontinuous way, rather than an incremental one? We developed a questionnaire to measure the extent to which Web site change was caused by each of four distinct reasons for change, discussed below. After we became confident we had a reliable instrument for measuring the reasons for Web site change, we decided to study a larger population. We chose universities for a number of reasons.

The most obvious of these, if not the most important, is that we are all university employees and have an interest in how they, as a population of organizations, work. Universities are important organizational forms, having existed for many years and being likely to continue to exist for many years to come. Understanding why universities make discontinuous changes to their Web sites seemed to us to be a worthwhile goal.

The second reason we chose universities as the focus of our study is that almost all of them in the United States and Canada have Web sites, even if unsophisticated ones. There is a great deal of variation in what universities do with their Web sites, how long they have been doing it, and (presumably) why. This seemed to be fertile ground for research. Another reason we chose universities is that a large number of them exist in the United States and Canada.

A final reason we chose to study universities is that they can be categorized easily by the highest degrees they grant and by their statuses as public or private institutions, among other characteristics. We felt that universities of different types might differ in terms of the reasons they had made discontinuous changes to their Web sites. We decided to study the importance of the four types of explanation for discontinuous changes in Web sites, discussed above, across different types of universities.

Literature Review

We looked at the academic literature to identify classes of explanation for why changes to Web sites might occur. There is almost no existing research literature directly related discontinuous change in Web sites.

Aoyama (2002) studied the rapid evolution of mobile phone software systems, examining continuous and discontinuous change in phone software. The study concluded that discontinuity is an essential aspect of software evolution, having to do with adaptation of software to essential change in the environments and requirements for computing. The study observed several discontinuous changes in the evolution of mobile phone software: from simple voice communication to digital communication to mobile Internet to Java-enabled systems. Aoyama claims that discontinuity follows from rapid and substantial change in architecture and features--at each discontinuous change, a large extension of architecture and a large set of new requirements were observed, both leading to substantial changes in code. …

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