The Internet Archive: a thing of beauty and a joy forever

On a previous version of my website, I had a blog that I published using the WordPress platform. However, when I changed the design of my site a couple of months ago, that blog disappeared completely, for reasons which I could not fully understand. I tried to get help on the WordPress user forum but despite the best efforts of a number of volunteer helpers, I couldn’t recover my pearls of wisdom.

In the great scheme of things it was probably not a great loss to humanity, but there were a few posts that I wanted to republish on this new blog. I had some of them saved as drafts in Word, but as I tend to edit online before publishing, they were not the finished article. And some posts were actually written online, so had gone completely to that great Recycle Bin in the sky.

Then a friend of mine pointed me at the Internet Archive, which must be one of the most astonishing, incredible, and simply wonderful websites on the whole of the World Wide Web. With superlative understatement, the site says that the Internet Archive is “a digital library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.”

So, for example, at today's date it has almost five million video clips including full-length films, news programmes and the like; it has 22 million texts – articles, eBooks and so on – including thousands of old books on gardening, which the staff at the Archive appear particularly to like; and it has live music (over 200,000 concerts) and audio (over seven million recordings). The whole lot is searchable and browseable, which makes the site is endlessly fascinating - although if your taste is towards serendipity it is a great time-waster: one can spend hours browsing the different categories.

Aside from the audio, video and text libraries, what particularly caught my eye was the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, which claims to have over 430 billion web pages stored, from 1996 onwards. All those billions of pages are accessible, if you know the website address: for instance, type in Google.com to the Wayback Machine, click “Browse History”, and you can go right back to 11 November 1998, when the search monster was in its infancy, to see what its website looked like at that time. Absolutely amazing.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I put in my own URL, and there was my website, which has been saved over a hundred times since I first had a site in 2003 (Google’s site has been saved more than a hundred thousand times, but who's counting). My WordPress blog is there as well, with every entry available for me to copy and paste into my own archive.

As I said, had my pearls of wisdom been lost forever, it would not have been a particularly big deal. But I am really pleased to have found them again. Long live the Internet Archive.

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