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|77.4 - Summer 2004|
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How the Web Was Won: The Internet Archive
By Andrew J. Readhttp://www.archive.org
(Credit: Vanessa Cervantes)
Have you ever wished you could go back in time and look at the old design of your favorite web site? If so, then the Internet Archive is for you! With the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine,” you can browse archived pages of selected web sites from 1996 to the present. Growing by about twelve terabytes (12,000 gigabytes) a month, the Internet Archive is a powerful research tool. Want to see what the old Yale University or Yale Scientific Magazine web sites looked like? The “Wayback Machine” has both sites in its massive collection. A collaborative venture with a number of libraries and research institutions, the Internet Archive uses an automated “crawler” to regularly traverse and archive web pages in its mission to provide “universal access to human knowledge.”
In addition to the “Wayback Machine,” the Internet Archive also contains collections of electronic books, noncommercial music, and moving images. The Prelinger Archives, a collection of films from 1928 to the present, includes such classics as “A is for Atom” (1953), “Why Study Science?” (1955), and “Stay Safe, Stay Strong: The Facts About Nuclear Weapons” (1960). While most of these films are of more use to history majors than science majors today, they provide valuable insight into the past and also a number of laughs.
Although the “Wayback Machine” is not perfect — many of the links on the archived pages do not work — it creates a valuable model for archiving the World Wide Web. Subscription or password-protected websites, such as the New York Times, block crawler access to their pages with a “robots.txt” file, so their pages are inaccessible on the Internet Archive.
Digital media is a useful way to preserve print, audio, and visual materials. But how will we preserve digital media so that it can be accessed in fifty years? While the Internet Archive provides a framework for archiving the web, a universal digital archival file type may be needed. Nevertheless, the “Wayback Machine” is a great way to explore the past and pass the time. The Internet Archive may also create a new cautionary motto for posting information on the web: once on the internet, always on the internet.
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