What is the Wayback Machine and why is it important?

Roman numerals representing time form a rotating vortex in outer space.FlashMovie/Shutterstock.com

The Wayback Machine allows you to view older versions of a website, see content that has changed, troubleshoot your own site, and even view content that no longer “exists” on the web. The Wayback Machine is important for preserving Internet history.

What is the Wayback Machine?

The Wayback Machine website.

Founded by the Internet Archive on May 12, 1996, the Wayback Machine is a free online service that searches and takes snapshots of websites at various time intervals and then archives those sites, preserving the history of the Internet. The Wayback Machine is named after the Wayback Machine from The Rocky and Bullwinkle’s Show “Peabody’s Improbable History”.

Although the Wayback Machine was founded in 1996, it was fully privatized and only certain people could access its content. It wasn’t until 2001 that the Wayback Machine was available to the public. At the time of writing, the Wayback Machine has archived over 663 billion web pages.

Is the Wayback Machine Legal?

There is a lot of gray area when it comes to the legality of the Wayback Machine. For example, Europe may consider the Wayback Machine a violation of its copyright laws, and the creators of the archived content can decide whether they want their content to be archived or not. If a creator wants to have their content removed from the Wayback Machine, Internet Archive must make it mandatory.

There have also been several lawsuits against the Wayback Machine from organizations and individuals, such as the Church of Scientology, Healthcare Advocates, Inc. and others.

Some countries have even banned the Wayback Machine completely, although that is based more on censorship than any legal issue. The Wayback Machine is currently blocked in China and was briefly blocked in Russia in 2015-2016.

The Importance of the Wayback Machine

The importance of the Wayback Machine is clear. Preserving the history of the Internet is important enough, but you can also go back and view an original content source to see what it was like before any updates were made to the content. This can be especially useful in a time of constantly changing information.

How-To Geek in November 2006.

You can even use the Wayback Machine to troubleshoot your website. In fact, Forbes offers a good argument for using it to solve SEO issues that your site may be dealing with. You can even restore entire websites. Thanks to many bots and dedicated volunteers, Wikipedia was able to replace 9 million broken links thanks to the Wayback Machine.

If a website is not currently available, you can use the Wayback Machine to view the website. While there won’t be any new content on the site until the site owners fix the issue, you can still view older content.

Another cool use of the Wayback Machine is the ability to see websites that are no longer online. However, there are some shortcomings here. The Wayback Machine takes a snapshot of what a website looks like at a particular time on a particular date. Depending on when the Wayback Machine created the snapshot, some of the content may be missing.

There is also the problem of content hiding behind a login wall. An example I personally give is PlayOnline.com. Final Fantasy IX is a fantastic game. However, BradyGames’ strategy guide is known as the worst strategy guide out there. The reason is that it was largely an incomplete guide. In almost every section, in an effort to drive more users to their website, they would add a side note saying something along the lines of, “For more information on how to beat this boss, visit PlayOnline.com and enter this code : BS103.”

PlayOnline tip in FFIX.

This, of course, was a problem for many players who bought the guide, as in 2000 the internet was not as easily accessible to as many people as it is now. To make matters worse? The portion of the website doesn’t even exist today. If you bought the strategy guide years ago, you’re out of luck. So I tried to access it through the Wayback Machine.

Unfortunately you had to have an account to log in to PlayOnline. Somehow I was still able to create a real account, but it just sent me into an infinite login loop. I could never actually log in and access the content.

Regardless of the few shortcomings, the advantages of the Wayback Machine are enormous and will always prove to be one of the most useful resources for preserving internet history.

RELATED: How to Browse Old Versions of Websites

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