The Internet archive: a digital library of everything

Oct. 15, 2021
by Mark Ollig

“The month is October, the air is turning cold. The leaves are all changing, to red and to gold,” is the beginning of an anonymously written poem befitting the current month.

March 1989, engineer and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee wrote a paper titled “Information Management: A Proposal” for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The same year, he finished developing and testing the first hyperlinked web computer server.

He coded the first web page editor and web browser software program and named it the WorldWideWeb.app.

In 1990, CERN researchers and scientists began using Berners-Lee’s web platform application over their networked computers.

The following year, Tim Berners-Lee’s web software was released to the entire internet community, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today’s choice of web browsers includes familiar names such as Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Internet Explorer. There are many others, as well.

In January 1993, at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), one of the first popular web browsers created was NCSA Mosaic.

A year later, Netscape Communications, based in California, developed a web browser called Netscape Navigator, which soared in popularity and became widely used among internet web surfers during the 1990s.

Netscape Navigator is the forefather of today’s Mozilla Firefox web browser.

Microsoft brought Internet Explorer (which it purchased from Spyglass, Inc.) to the World Wide Web table in 1995.

A few years earlier, in December 1992, Apple’s Macintosh computer began using a web browser called MacWWW, or Samba. This web browser worked with their Classic Mac OS (operating system).

Of course, in 1992, the World Wide Web was just getting started.

In 1996, the Internet Archive website was founded. It began digitally storing and preserving the growing number of web pages and data from the internet.

This organization began with a mission to preserve past and current internet web pages so future generations could look back and see content as originally presented.

“The Internet Archive is working to prevent the Internet – a new medium with major historical significance – and other “born-digital” materials from disappearing into the past,” reads their 1996 mission statement.

Each day, the Internet Archive collects, organizes, catalogs, and preserves web content from numerous websites on the internet.

The Internet Archive is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization supported by donations.

This organization preserves and stores digital records for future generations and offers historians, students, researchers, and you and me access to thousands of digitally-saved historical collections.

These freely accessible collections contain a treasure trove of photographs, books, movies, music, audio files, software, educational and historical references, and archived internet web pages.

I think of the Internet Archive as a “digital web time capsule.”

Looking back at those early websites, I am reminded of how easy-to-read and uncluttered a web page looked 20 years ago.

I recall a 1960s television cartoon featuring a boy named Sherman and an intelligent talking dog named Mr. Peabody, using a time machine to participate in historical events.

This cartoon used a clever and entertaining approach to teaching children history using the WABAC Machine, pronounced Wayback Machine.

The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine currently holds more than 476 billion web pages.

I recently used it to look at the front page of my hometown city’s website as it appeared Dec. 1, 1998. Check it out using this link: https://bit.ly/3v1KE2a.

One of the links from 1998, Community Info, takes you to the Winsted, Minnesota Community Guide information as it appeared on Dec. 3; here is the link: https://bit.ly/3DrYca8.

Anyone can send data to be archived and searchable by the public on the Internet Archive.

To begin uploading videos, text, audio, or images you wish to be saved for future generations; first, obtain your Internet Archive virtual library card at http://bit.ly/2gxWGJV.

Check out the Internet Archive and Wayback Machine to view books, movies, audio, images, software, and web pages at https://archive.org.

In 2000, the Internet Archive began storing television news and related media at https://archive.org/details/tv.

As of October, an estimated 1.7 billion websites exist on the planet and are accessible by 4.6 billion people (and artificially intelligent devices) using the internet.

Currently, the Internet Archive holds more than 70 petabytes (70 million gigabytes) of data.

The “Top Collections at the Archive” can be seen at http://bit.ly/Z523GP.

The following quote was written by Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, on its 25th anniversary.

“By building a Library of Everything in the digital age, I thought the opportunity was not just to make it available to everybody in the world, but to make it better – smarter than paper. By using computers, we could make the Library not just searchable, but organizable.”

What information will the Internet Archive have waiting for future researchers in 2046?

Stay tuned.

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