I discovered the Internet exactly one year ago. Since I hadn't surfed before
that, I'm accustomed to seeing many Web sites at the peak of their
popularity. But I often mull over what they might have looked like in their
Now, the Wayback Machine has allowed me to find
It's called 'Wayback Machine' probably because it wants users to implicitly
associate it with the fantasy of a time machine. The project has archives of
many widely accessed Web sites from 1996. So, all you do is enter the URL of
a site you want to visit, and press the button to travel back in time.
The interface could very much resemble the button panel of a time machine: A
steel grey surface with rows of months and dates. Select the date of your
choice, and you will see the site as it was back then. Allow me, for
instance, to give you a tour of Rediff.com. This is how
it looked on June 10, 1998. By October 9 the following year, there was a
difference. Visit it as it was on November 19, 2000 and
trace its progress until it acquired the swank look it currently
But while the casual surfer may delight in using the Wayback machine to
trace the roots of various sites, there are more serious uses: The chief
advantage being the ability to recover information long after it was deleted
from the site's servers.
There would have to be a whole lot of data. Brewster Kahle,
archive director and president of Alexa Internet, which have helped with
this project, says: "Currently there are 10 billion Web pages, collected
over five years. That amounts to 100 terabytes, which is 100 million
The archives will give people an insight into history, culture and events of
the past -- something like what the millennium capsule is supposed to do.
Years from now, you will be able to recapture the horrors of the September
11 terrorist attacks, view a
list of pioneering Web sites when they had just begun or watch an online movie
If the Wayback Machine takes you as far back as 1996, the Usenet Archives do
better, since it predated the Web. Google Groups now holds Usenet archives for the last
20 years. They claim to have "more than 700 million messages dating back to
1981. This, they say, will provide "a fascinating first-hand historical
And their claims seem justified. Read Tim
Berners-Lee's "short summary of the WorldWideWeb project" or Linus Torvalds
' first-hand account of Linux. Google has a timeline of messages and threads that became milestones
in the history of the Web. They include the first mention of the name
early posts about emoticons and about "a
program called irc".
These archives help us see things anew, and realise the excitement caused by
major developments that we now take for granted. Like Torvald's happy
comment that Linux "has finally reached the stage where it's even usable .
and I am willing to put out the sources for wider distribution."
For people who have been posting messages on dial-up bulletin boards (BBSs)
rather than Usenet, there is yet another facility. Textfiles.com, manned by Jason Scott, has archived thousands
of such messages.
You can browse the archive at random, or go through the top 100 messages in Scott's opinion. They serve as a
sampling of the mindset and culture as people began getting online in the
Scott says on his site, "I realised I had been a part of many great things,
and the perspective I had gained since that time gave me ideas. If you were
there, we'll reminisce together. And if you weren't there, do I have a story
to tell you."
Textfiles offers a better way to remember the good old days, and relive
"There's every manner of feeling being crammed down and posted for the world
to find. It's a spectrum of humanity, and this is what I hope you'll find,
buried there, among the text," says Scott.
It certainly was an eye-opener for me.