(K Harris, librarian/archivist, University of Dayton; C Bees, Deer, Collections, Collections Strategies and Services, University of Dayton; S Schreffler, Collections Librarian/archivist, University of Dayton) Dayton (USA), August 14 (The Conversation) this year The Internet Archive turns 25. It is best known for its pioneering role in archiving the Internet through the Wayback Machine, which allows users to see what websites looked like in the past. The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the World Wide Web. Its purpose was to provide universal access by preserving archived copies of unreadable web pages. as of today
The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the World Wide Web. Its purpose was to provide universal access by preserving archived copies of unreadable web pages.
In today’s time, most of the daily life has become online. School, work, communication with friends and family, as well as news and pictures are obtained through various websites. Various information is now available online. The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked even more conversations on the web.
You may not be aware that some parts of the Internet are constantly disappearing. As librarians and archivists, we strengthen collective memory by preserving materials documenting a society’s cultural heritage, including the web. You, as a civil archivist, can help us save the internet, too.
People and organizations remove content from the web for many reasons. Sometimes this is the result of changes in Internet culture, such as the recent closure of Yahoo Answers.
It can also be a result of following best practices for website design. When a website is updated, for example, the previous version is overwritten, unless it has been archived. Web archiving is the process of collecting, preserving and providing continuous access to information on the Internet. Often this work is done by librarians and archivists with the help of automated technology such as ‘web crawlers’.
In 2018, then-President Donald Trump took to Twitter to falsely claim that Google had promoted President Barack Obama’s ‘State of the Union Address’ on its homepage East, but not his. Archived versions of the Google home page proved that Google had, in fact, exposed Trump’s State of the Union address in the same manner. Many news outlets use the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine as a source for fact-checking these types of claims, as the screenshots alone can easily be changed.
A 2019 report from the ‘Tow Center for Digital Journalism’ examined the digital archiving practices and policies of newspapers, magazines and other news producers. Interviews revealed that many news media employees either do not have the resources to archive their work or misunderstand a digital archive by comparing it to a backup version.
Websites documenting social justice issues, such as ‘Black Lives Matter’, help explain these activities to people present and future. Archiving government websites promotes transparency and accountability. Government websites are at risk of being taken down with changing political parties, especially in the transition period.
Archived websites that document the culture and history of the Internet, such as the Geocities gallery, are not only fun to watch but show how early websites were built and used by individuals.
Archiving the Internet is an important task that librarians and archivists cannot do alone. Any citizen can be an archivist and preserve history through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
The “Save Page Now” feature allows anyone to freely archive a single, public website page. Keep in mind, some websites block web crawling and archiving through special coding or by requiring login to the site. This may be due to sensitive content or the personal preference of the web developer.
Local cultural heritage institutions, such as libraries, archives and museums, are also actively archiving the Internet. More than eight hundred institutions use Archive-It, a tool for the Internet Archive. Similarly, it created the Community Web Program, in partnership with the Institute for Museums and Library Services, to help public libraries build collections of archived web content relevant to local communities.
Today’s websites are the historical evidence of tomorrow, but only if they are archived. If they are lost we will lose important information about corporate and government decisions, modern communication methods such as social media and important social movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Me Too’.
Together with librarians and archivists, you can help ensure the existence of this evidence and save Internet history.
The Conversation Devendra Dileep