Magazine article Online

The Wayback Machine. (Online Spotlight)

Magazine article Online

The Wayback Machine. (Online Spotlight)

Article excerpt

When I was growing up, the only cartoons we were allowed to watch were those my mother judged to be nonviolent. Fortunately, the "Rocky & Bullwinkle Show" made the cut, and I grew up being exposed to adult humor at its best, including Peabody's Improbable History--4-minute cartoons featuring the brainiac dog Mr. Peabody "and his boy, Sherman." Each episode involved time travel with Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine.

We still have a version of the Wayback Machine, now brought to you by Alexa Internet since October 2001. In its most basic form, the Wayback Machine is a tool for viewing Web pages retained in the Internet Archive. Head over to http://web.archive.org, type in the URL that you want, and the Wayback Machine will show you the dates of its archived copies of the page, going back to 1996--practically the Jurassic period in Internet years. Click on any of the dates, and you'll see the page as it existed in history, complete with live links to any other archived pages. It's kind of like looking through your high school yearbook and wondering why you thought you looked cool with that dorky haircut.

A few caveats before I enthuse about this site. First, keep in mind that you're not searching the Internet Archive, just drilling down by URL. This isn't a historical Google; it's simply a look-up tool for archived copies of pages. Plus, it's by no means comprehensive. For starters, the Wayback Machine includes whatever the Internet Archive has--that may be one or two versions of a Web site in a year, or it may be 25 or 50. The farther back you go, the fewer pages you see; people weren't as savvy about getting their Web sites linked to other sites, so there were far more "invisible" Web sites that the search engines just didn't know about. Another limitation of the Wayback Machine is that Web managers can request that their site not be crawled by the Internet Archive and that any archived pages be removed. Try finding any pages from the Washington Post, for example.

It's as if Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine won't take you to July 10, 1922, or the week of April 7-13, 1895. I can live with that; it's still a nifty tool for all kinds of research. When I was reviewing lJump.com (ONLINE, July 2002), I checked out the company's prior incarnations with the Wayback Machine to see how the company had changed its service offerings over the years. …

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