The Internet Archive and Wayback Machine

Category: Reference

The Internet Archive is either one MASSIVE collection of electrons, or a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide "universal access to all knowledge.” Or both. As part of their mission, the Internet Archive has been crawling the Web for over 20 years, making copies of Web pages and preserving them for posterity. Today, approximately 360 billion Web pages, 20 million books, millions of images, audio recordings, and video, and 200,000 software programs are stored on the IA’s servers. Read on to learn how you can access this amazing resource that offers a window into both the history and the present of the Internet...

What is the Internet Archive?

The Internet Archive was founded by Brewster Kahle, a computer engineer who helped to develop WAIS (Wide Area Information System), a command-line driven precursor to the World Wide Web. Kahle and others founded WAIS, Inc., to commercialize the text-searching technology; their clients included Ross Perot’s 1992 Presidential campaign, the EPA, the Library of Congress, the Dept. of Energy, the Wall Street Journal, and Encyclopedia Britannica.

WAIS, Inc., was sold to AOL in 1995 (which is why you've probably never heard of it) and Kahle went on to found The Internet Archive and the Alexa search engine (not to be confused with Amazon’s Alexa).

The front-end to this massive library is the Wayback Machine (which fans of Dr. Peabody and Sherman will recognize). It allows journalists, researchers, and the nostalgically curious to search for older versions of Web pages, even if the pages no longer exist on the Web. If you want to see what looked like in October 1996, or view snapshots of over time, it's in there.

The Wayback Machine

It also allows one to submit a page’s URL for archiving, and get a URL that will work even if the page is deleted or moved from its original site. These permanent links are increasingly important. Web URLs have gained widespread acceptance as citations in students’ term papers, Ph. D. dissertations, scientific research publications, even court filings and opinions. A “404 - not found” error is a big deal in a legal document, and the Wayback Machine helps avoid such problems. The Wayback Machine can search for archived copies of a missing page given its now-errant URL.

To make finding a lost page even easier, a browser extension is available for Chrome, and an addon for Firefox. Once installed, it automatically searches the IA every time you run into one of the various "page not found" errors your browser may return when you try to fetch a web page. (In tech terms, that would be an error number 404, 408, 410, 451, 500, 502, 503, 504, 509, 520, 521, 523, 524, 525, or 526). If archived copies of the page are found, a notification window lets you choose whether to explore them.

But Wait, There's More!

Headquarters of Internet Archive, located in the former Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist, a neoclassic building with Greek columns on Funston Avenue, in Richmond District, San Francisco, California

The Internet Archive isn't just about Web pages, though. As part of its lofty goal "to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge," the folks at IA are busily scanning books into its databases, much like Google Books does. It also preserves copies of old video games (and the emulators need to play an Atari game on a PC), software, music, movies, videos (including TV news broadcasts and live concerts), and even animated GIFs. The headquarters of Internet Archive are located in the former Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist, a neoclassic building with Greek columns on Funston Avenue, in Richmond District, San Francisco, California. As of May 2019, the IA held over 45 petabytes of data. A petabyte is one million gigabytes. Wow.

It's worth your time to browse the "Top Collections at the Archive," where you'll fund curated collections related to a wide variety of interests including Old Time Radio, MS-DOS Games, old magazines, and dozens of esoteric topics. One thing that was new since my last visit was Electric Sheep, a collection of animated and evolving fractal flames that make great screensavers. Let me know what you find there!

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below.

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Most recent comments on "The Internet Archive and Wayback Machine"

Posted by:

20 May 2019

Is there anyway to find the old children’s magazines called “St Nicholas “. I have a small collection of the bound volumes, but I’d love to be able to see them all.

Thanks for your site, I’ve been following you since you were the Tour Bus 🚎 🚌 😝

Posted by:

Geoff Sinton
20 May 2019

I have used the Way Back Machine to find pages from the defunct Geocities. The creators should be commended.

Posted by:

20 May 2019

this sounds above my pay grade. I use g00gle for searches, and things I once found, can no longer be found. why is that? someone said a change of algorithms??

Posted by:

Jan Lee
20 May 2019

Kathy, You can find some copies from 1878 and 1886 of St. Nicholas at Project

Posted by:

20 May 2019

you can also use the wayback to install deleted firefox extensions and thees.

Posted by:

Peter Mauro
20 May 2019

Who the hell is paying for this?

Posted by:

Eric Bloch
20 May 2019

Search for the FireFox add-on "no-more-404s" and install the "Wayback Machine".

Posted by:

20 May 2019

Peter Mauro
It is paid for from donations, a number of foundations, and even some government sources, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Science Foundation. So far, the donations et al., have kept it ad-free.

The Archive is of great value to me for its history books. I live in an out of the way area, and it would be exceedingly difficult to find these in libraries. But I can just download them into my digital library. And unlike many google books, I can digitally search them for topics of interest.

Posted by:

Jerry B
20 May 2019

I've been using the Wayback Machine ever since I learned of it in your 2012 article "Blast From the Past: The Internet Archive", and I installed the browser addons/extensions as soon as they became available. Since the Wayback Machine has saved me from many hours of 404 frustration, I have gladly made several donations to help support this amazing endeavor.

Posted by:

Gary Mason
21 May 2019

I've had a classic car club website up since 1998 and it's fun to go back and see the various changes I made to it over the years thanks to the Wayback Machine.

Posted by:

Sarah LaBelle
21 May 2019

I encounter these mainly on Wikipedia. It has a bot, some code written by someone not me, that searches articles with marked or unmarked dead links (url that goes nowhere) and replaces it with the new url or the archive url, leading the reader to the intended page of information. It is quite amazing, both because the old pages are found and to learn how quickly information is tossed off the internet, or do I mean world wide web, because no one is taking care of the web site, I think.

The images of original books are pretty cool, too. The pages flick like real pages, and if the original book had illustrations, they are included. I have been looking at 19th century novels, like David Copperfield and Great Expectations, which have illustrations, which add to the story.

Posted by:

Geoff Carlin
21 May 2019

Hey Bob,
You always come up with useful stuff! Still life in the auld dug! Wayback machine rocks!
Keep up the good work.
Greetings from Scotland!

PS would appreciate it if you could somehow help knock the remaining wheels off Brexit! Yes the UK has gone mad. Is there a wayback for us?

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