Retro Google?! This is one of the first Google home pages circa November 1997 courtesy of the Wayback Machine. Wayback Machine is an internet archive of web pages from 1996 to the present. It is run by Internet Archive, a non-profit organization that began archiving web pages in 1996. Internet Archive collects web pages through web crawling. Web crawling creates copies of web pages and Internet Archive archives these copies. The public can access this archived material through the Wayback Machine. The name comes from Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show. Today, the Wayback Machine contains two petabytes of data–more text than is at the Library of Congress.
The greatest asset of Wayback Machine is that it is extremely easy to use. On the home page, type in any URL of the website you wish to see. You are then taken to an interactive calendar. Pick a year at the top, and click on a month and day on the corresponding calendar. Click on a date and go back in time and view what a web page looked like on that date. An interactive calendar on top allows you to surf between pages quickly and easily. One drawback of the Wayback Machine is that you cannot search full text or by keywords. You can only search by typing in a specific URL. They hope to implement these features in the future.
The Wayback Machine is an invaluable source for historians. In fact, the mission of the Archive is to preserve digital artifacts for future use by researchers, historians, and scholars. The general public can also use and research this archive because it is extremely accessible and easy to use. Visitors to the site can look through hundreds of web pages, if only to gawk at how far the internet has come (just look at how far Google graphics have come with their Halloween images!).
Nostalgia aside, the Wayback Machine is not only a great asset for current research, but will be a wonderful source of research material for future researchers. However, after reading Roy Rosenzweig’s “Scarcity or Abundance,” we have to be wary of these web archives. In particular, these web crawls archive sites in their original format. If technology evolves too quickly, will future historians be even able to access these pages?
There is so much source material on Wayback Machine that can be used by future historians. For example, you can look at what President Obama advocated for in his 2008 campaign by looking at his campaign website. On the flip side, the Wayback Machine also has compiled collections on specific archived material, such as Hurricane Katrina. Public historians, then, can also use this archive to display certain materials. How else can historians use these digital archives?