It may not be Throwback Thursday, but let’s take a trip down virtual memory lane.
This unique tool saves ‘snapshots’ of webpages at different points in time, from 1996 to just a few months ago. (Although Rocky & Bullwinkle fans will gladly tell you about the original Wayback Machine if you ask them). Simply input a web address in the search bar to browse its history.
Take, for example, this little gem: an image from the Fielding Institute’s website back in May, 1998:
We’ve come a long way haven’t we?
If that’s not enough for you, you can use the Wayback Machine to click through old pages of websites, not just the home page, to gain a complete picture of a site’s content at a given point in time.
So, I know what you are thinking: who cares? Glad you asked!
As our technological capabilities grow, significant pieces of our culture are being created and stored on the web. This also means these objects are more easily lost and destroyed than heartier, more traditional artifacts like stone carvings, and thus require digital preservation efforts to be accessible to future generations. Present and future academics alike will analyze webpages as artifacts, whether they interpret them as indicators of a society’s values or as works of art.
Practically speaking, the Wayback Machine can also be used to find webpages that may be presently missing, changed, or down. For example, during the most recent government shutdown, the content of many U.S. Government webpages was inaccessible to users. However, with the help of the Wayback Machine, adept researchers could still access recent versions of the pages they needed!
Whether you use it for academic research, or as occasional back-up, the Wayback Machine should be in every researcher’s toolbox.