(Maybe) not lost and gone forever: the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine

Impermanence is a concern for most web content.   Commitments change, projects and funding end, institutional priorities shift, organizations  dissolve, and any of this can lead to the ‘unpublishing’ of web pages or entire sites, often without warning.  When a website you use–or one on which your work was once published–disappears, there is hope.

The Wayback Machine has archived 430 billion web pages from 1996 to the present, and allows you to see web pages as they were at multiple points in the past.  Web pages and other digital objects (e.g., pdf files) from sites it has crawled can be accessed from the archive.

To find a lost page or site:

  1. Enter the old web address for the site into the search box.
    (You do need to know the web address.)
  2. The Wayback Machine will return a calendar highlighting the dates on which the site was crawled and archived.  (See this sample search result for a listing of symposium proceedings which can no longer be found on the original host’s website.)
  3. Click on a date to see that website or page as it appeared that date.

Archive on demand.  “Save Page Now” allows you to archive a web page you are citing on demand via the Wayback Machine to ensure that information you cite is preserved (as you viewed it)–even if the hosting organization later edits the page or deletes it entirely.  The feature provides a persistent link to the archived page in the Wayback Machine.

Limitations.  Content that is restricted by publishers is excluded.  Pages that do not allow crawlers are excluded.  The functionality of interactive databases is not preserved.

Internet Archive.  The Wayback Machine is part of the Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose purposes include “offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.”   In addition to the Wayback Machine, the Internet Archive offers open access collections of digital documents and media.   Learn more about the effort of the Internet Archive to “change the content of the Internet from ephemera to enduring artifacts of our political and cultural lives.”

Want to be sure your paper or presentation is safely archived?  See “How you can use IDEALS and why you should” for information about depositing your work into the University of Illinois institutional repository for safekeeping.

Originally posted 9/22/2014 on the Prairie Research Institute Library’s blog “News from the Library.”