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The Internet Archive

It’s so much more than history.

The Internet Archive is a fascinating collection of site archives, snapshots, and other data recording the internet's growth and history.
archive.org home page
Archive.org homepage. (Screenshot: askleo.com)

The Internet Archive is a site you could spend hours browsing. It’s an amazing site.

One resource within it is the Wayback Machine, which is extra cool.

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TL;DR:

The Internet Archive

When online content goes missing or to research how content and sites have changed over the years, The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is a great resource. The Archive is also a treasure trove of online media preserved for anyone to browse.

The Wayback Machine

If the website or page you were looking for has disappeared or otherwise dropped off of the internet, it might still be in the Wayback Machine.1

The Wayback Machine contains billions of web pages archived from 1996 to the present.

Here’s a great example: Microsoft’s home page in 1996. Lots of broken links to pictures, but the text is still there and quite telling. It’s 1996, Visual Basic 5 is featured, and “See What’s New in Microsoft Publisher 97!!” is a prominent headline. (And you can “Win a 97 Ford Explorer”!)

Here’s Ask Leo!’s earliest appearance. Quite different, eh?

Archives as a safety net

One example of how the Wayback Machine can be invaluable is when the reference site Black Viper2 inexplicably dropped off the internet.

The Internet Archive came to the rescue, providing a backup archive of the pages so many people found useful. (Searching for that site on The Internet Archive today also shows the control site owners have over allowing their content to be archived.)

I’ve also recovered specific webpages of my own that had somehow been lost, and I’ve heard of others recovering entire websites from the archive when the original is lost.

Archives as a time sink

There’s much more to the Internet Archive than just the Wayback Machine, though. There are millions of documents, audios, videos, and more preserved within its digital walls.

The Wikipedia page on The Internet Archive has a pretty reasonable summary of some of the areas that are worth exploring.

It’s an amazing collection of information of historical and current value.

Archives and politics

One of the issues with the internet in general is that organizations with online presences may be restricted in what they can present or archive online. As political winds and local laws change and impose restrictions, information may be censored.

Archive.org addresses this by having data centers in multiple countries around the globe. Not only is this an important form of backup, but it also preserves retention of and access to information that might be something local governments restrict.

Do this

Visit The Internet Archive. Spend some time browsing it.

Then, the next time a webpage goes missing, give the Wayback Machine a shot to see if that page had been archived for posterity.

You don’t need the Wayback Machine to view my weekly newsletter. All the issues since 2005 are right here on the web. While you’re there, subscribe to get more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

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Footnotes & References

1: Named after the Wayback Machine from the “Peabody’s Improbable History” segment of the 1960’s Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon.

2: For many years, Black Viper provided great reference information about Windows services. Unfortunately, this information is no longer being updated.

5 comments on “The Internet Archive”

  1. A word of caution when visiting Internet Archive.
    Unless you are a strong willed person, expect to spend way too much time browsing through a treasure trove of great historical items.
    My suggestions:
    [Perlinger film archives[1], old cigarette ads, the first Betty Boop & Felix cartoons, screen captures of Atari videos]

    [1] These are the classic 50’s-60’s educational b&w films you were forced to watch in school,”how to be liked”, “your first date”, “table manners”, and the creepy one about….well you’ll find it”.

    Reply
  2. FYI, Firefox does have a “Wayback Machine” extension. Open the extension type in your URL and it opens the available copies of the old website. The “Wayback Machine” is fun to use but it doesn’t archive the website daily and some links in old websites won’t open. So don’t expect it to contain everything but it’s a fairly good source of what may be forgotten information for hobby or club sites that no longer exists on the internet.

    Reply
    • It is kinda hit or miss at times, I agree. One of the browsers, not sure which, actually falls back to an archive.org search if the webpage you’re going to can’t be fetched normally. Kinda cool.

      Reply
  3. I think of the Internet Archive as such a “very good thing” that I make a (very modest) monthly contribution to help keep it (and two other VGTs) afloat. Possibly unknown to a significant portion of the world, it is doing valuable work. My two other VGTs are Wikipedia and Freegle. Possibly none fit the obvious charitable box, but all three are free, and make the world a better place to be.

    Reply

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