If you grew up watching Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, you may recall a segment called Peabody's Improbable History featuring Mr. Peabody, who was a dog, and his companion Sherman, who was a boy. They went on humorous -- and educational -- adventures by climbing into their "Wayback" machine and traveling back in history.
Well, believe it or not, we have a real live "Wayback" machine in our midst today. Thanks to the Internet Archive, a comprehensive library of Web sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form, this real world time machine allows people to access and use archived versions of past pages, free of charge.
The archive's creators decided to open it up for the public on its fifth anniversary, wanting to allow everyone a chance to travel back in time and view the Internet as it was and its progression into the future.
For the first time, all members of the public are able to search and view the Internet Archive's enormous collection dating back to 1996. To date, the archive has catalogued over 10 billion pages that might otherwise have been lost, providing both a record of the origins and evolution of the Internet, as well as snapshots of society as a whole around the turn of the century.
"In 1996, we created the Internet Archive because we felt it was critical to preserve a permanent record of this historically significant new medium for the public," said Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle at the service's launch at the University of California, Berkeley.
Visitors simply log onto the archive's site (see link at right), type a URL in the provided search box, select a date, and begin surfing on an archived version of the Web.
More Data than All the World's Libraries
Collaborating with institutions including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution, the Internet Archive's comprehensive library of the Web's digital past comprises 100 terabytes of data and is growing at a rate of 10 terabytes per month, eclipsing the amount of data contained in every library in the world including the Library of Congress, and making it the largest known database in existence.
"By keeping an historical record of what Web sites looked like and how hotel web design they evolved over time, the Internet Archive is an invaluable resource for journalism educators, academic researchers and people who just want to see how the media and our culture marked important historical events," said Paul Grabowicz, Director of the New Media Program and Assistant Dean at Northgate UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
He added, "Now, thanks to the Archive's new Wayback Machine, everyone has the opportunity to revisit, study and enjoy these important 'first drafts of history."
While recording history may be the http://www.redspotdesign.com/ goal of the archive, I find the site highly educational and quite entertaining. It is fun to see how far we have come in Web design alone.
Check out a Web page from 1997 and compare it with that same site now. You will find that the visual contrast is dramatic. It feels like looking at pictures of people in junior high school compared to how they look today.