Time travel the Internet with the Wayback Machine

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Have you ever wondered what your website looked like in 1999? Wish you were Michael J. Fox and had a DeLorean to go back to the future and get a graphic you deleted or see how your website has evolved over the years? If only there was an internet archive…

But there is! Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library offering free universal access to books, movies & music, as well as 150 billion archived web pages. The Internet Archive was founded in 1996 and developed the Wayback Machine in 1999.

How does it work? The Wayback Machine crawls millions of site and takes a “snap shot” of them. Much of their archived web data comes from their own crawls or from Alexa Internet’s crawls.

The Wayback Machine is far from perfect. It looks like it does not handle flash, and the dates are crawl dates so they are pretty random. The site runs slow, so you have to be very patient. Overall, it is a great tool and gives you an idea of what your site looked like at different days and years.

How do you add your site to the Wayback Machine? You should ensure that your site’s robots.txt rules and in-page META robots directives do not tell crawlers to avoid your site.

When a site is crawled, there is usually at least a six-month lag, and sometimes as much as a 24-month lag, between the date that web pages are crawled and when they appear in the Wayback Machine.

In some cases, crawled content from certain projects may appear in a much shorter time frame — as little as a few weeks from when it was crawled. Older material for the same pages and sites may still appear separately, months later.

In my next blog, I will show you another archive trick.