Monday, March 29, 2021

Internet Archive: To Capture & Store & Share All Human Knowledge (Seriously!!)

Just three of many powerful tools from the Internet Archive

The process of archiving real things is something we all understand. Whether it's great-grandma's collection of porcelain figurines, an ancient Greek statue or a first edition of a rare book, our archives are typically composed of things we can see and touch and smell and feel. And seeing each object, we also see shadows of the past. 

But what of our digital history? How should we archive that which has existed in the form of invisible electronic patterns? Old jpeg images, audio files, HTML web pages, videos and all manner of stuff from our digital past may seem to be pervasive and durable, but they are actually fragile and subject to instant deletion at the whim of their keepers. These ephemeral traces of the passing of their creators could all eventually disappear, along with those who labored to build them. 

Enter the Internet Archive

It is this digital disappearance that the folks at the Internet Archive are laboring mightily to prevent. Since May of 1996 they have been on a mission to capture and store all knowledge. 

Wikipedia summarizes (my bold added): "The Internet Archive is an American digital library with the stated mission of 'universal access to all knowledge.' It provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, software applications/games, music, movies/videos, moving images, and millions of books. " - Wikepedia

As you can imagine, it is a daunting task to store and categorize the HEAPS of digital stuff we humans create, whether profoundly significant or just plain goofy. And, to be honest, it can be difficult to access particular items within those heaps even after they have been carefully categorized and assembled. 

To make your journey through the Archive a little less confusing, spokesperson Alexis Rossi has created a nicely organized video overview that will get you started. It's embedded below. (NOTE: You should try to view this video on a tablet or computer screen, since the information-rich screens she demonstrates are difficult to see on a small phone screen.)

YouTube Video: How to use the Internet Archive

The Big Picture

This quote from the Internet Archive's About page captures the sheer scope of their work:

"... Today we have 20+ years of web history accessible through the Wayback Machine and we work with 625+ library and other partners through our Archive-It program to identify important web pages.  As our web archive grew, so did our commitment to providing digital versions of other published works. Today our archive contains:

  • 475 billion web pages
  • 28 million books and texts
  • 14 million audio recordings (including 220,000 live concerts)
  • 6 million videos (including 2 million Television News programs)
  • 3.5 million images
  • 580,000 software programs
  • Anyone with a free account can upload media to the Internet Archive. We work with thousands of partners globally to save copies of their work into special collections. "

Such a massive collection inspires all sorts of projects aimed at focusing on particular domains of knowledge. Internet Archive Projects page lists these current projects:

  • Political TV Ad Archive
  • Building Libraries Together
  • Open Library
  • Scanning Services
  • Software Archive
  • Wayback Machine
  • Offline Archive
  • BookServer
  • Open Content Alliance
  • Open Education Resources library
  • Bookmobile
  • (Coming soon) Over 100,000 historic vinyl records are being digitised and made available to stream online for free)

The Internet Archive Wayback Machine 

Have you ever searched for an old favorite website or a highly recommended web reference, only to discover that it had simply vanished? The Wayback Machine is designed to help you recover that lost resource! The Wayback Machine creators explain:  
"The Internet Archive Wayback Machine is a service that allows people to visit archived versions of Web sites. Visitors to the Wayback Machine can type in a URL, select a date range, and then begin surfing on an archived version of the Web. Imagine surfing circa 1999 and looking at all the Y2K hype, or revisiting an older version of your favorite Web site. The Internet Archive Wayback Machine can make all of this possible."
To be fair, The Wayback Machine is both an incredibly powerful tool and (as you might expect) complex to use. But again, our Internet Archive spokesperson Alexis Rossi provides a nice, focused video overview. It's embedded below. (NOTE: As with the previous video, you should try to view this video on a tablet or computer screen, since the information-rich screens are difficult to see on a small phone screen.)

YouTube Video: How to use the Wayback Machine

A Wayback Machine Case Study & Fun Fact: My 22-year-old website is NOT gone!

Since I launched it in 1999, I've made a lot of changes to my Project Management Resources website. In recent years I finally decided to archive it and move on to writing about whatever suits my fancy here at my WORTH SHARING site. As far as I knew, when I ditched my old website and stopped paying to have it hosted, it was gone! So imagine my complete surprise when, just for the fun of it, I did a search using The Wayback Machine and found that my original website had been archived with the sub-menus and many of the linked pages still intact! You can see for yourself here: 

Honestly!! I thought my old abandoned website was gone forever.
But the Wayback Machine found it at the Internet Archive! 
(Well, at least I know the beard's really gone.)

As you can see from my search experiment above, The Wayback Machine can be full of surprises. What surprises might it have in store for you? Go ahead, travel back in web-time and find out. 

Internet Archive Scholar

Here's an overview of Internet Archive Scholar from a recent Internet Archive blog post, titled Search Scholarly Materials Preserved in the Internet Archive

"Looking for a research paper but can’t find a copy in your library’s catalog or popular search engines? Give Internet Archive Scholar a try! We might have a PDF from a 'vanished' Open Access publisher in our web archive, an author’s pre-publication manuscript from their archived faculty webpage, or a digitized microfilm version of an older publication.... We hope Internet Archive Scholar will aid researchers and librarians looking for specific open access papers that may not be otherwise available to them."

If you're an academic scholar or researcher, you probably want to dig deeper to discover the marvels of this incredible academic treasure hunting tool. Below are a couple of link-filled pages to help you. (Warning: These can get a bit geeky! But if you're a serious scholar, you're already there, right?)

For the rest of us who are just looking for a quick overview of this amazing tool, check out Richard Byrne's YouTube video.  (NOTE: As with the previous videos, you should view this video on a tablet or computer screen, since the information-rich screens are difficult to see on a small phone screen.)

YouTube Video: An Overview of Internet Archive Scholar by Richard Byrne

Now get an account and go explore!

I hope this quick overview of The Internet Archive and tools have inspired you to explore on your own. But before you get lost in a digital archeological expedition, you should probably set up a free account. If nothing else, you'll be glad to have somewhere to capture some of the nuggets you find on your journey of discovery. What's more, according to the Archive:  

"Having an account allows you to:

  • Upload files to the site
  • Have collections for your uploads (50 items minimum required)
  • Borrow books from the lending library
  • Leave reviews
  • Participate in forums
  • View and use some items that are restricted
  • Receive monthly newsletters and event notices"

Find out how to set up your account here:  Accounts - A Basic Guide.

Enjoy your explorations!

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