Friday, May 31, 2013

Internet Archeology: Partying like its 1997

English: Cern office building 40, photographed...
CERN batiment 40 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was interested in finding some of my old webpages after reading about CERN rebuilding the first webpage back in April. I remember first seeing that website and thinking "why would anyone want to do this when all you have to do is log on to a bulletin board and download a hypercard stack and get all the information you could ever want?" I also ridiculed my little brother when he burst into the room with news of the "floppy disk." I told him it was idiotic since someone could go into any Radio Shack and by a cassette tape and store all their programs on something that only costs a couple of bucks. Please do not look to me for investment advice!

Anyway, if you have an old URL and you want find the information that was there even if the site is now down, the best thing to do is to go to www.archive.org and search in their "Wayback Machine" - a search engine that searches their archive of the internet. You can go there to recover old data or you can use it to find out what webpages looked like in the Dork Ages: "Browse through over 240 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago. To start surfing the Wayback, type in the web address of a site or page where you would like to start, and press enter. Then select from the archived dates available. The resulting pages point to other archived pages at as close a date as possible. Keyword searching is not currently supported." Another important use for the Wayback Machine is that the URLs that you will find there won't change. This is particularly important for course materials in online classes that use links. If I find an article I like, I will look up the article in the Wayback Machine, take a URL from a year ago and post that. Then if the site goes away or the URL changes in the actual site, I will always have the resource.

I find this particularly interesting because by looking at old webpages, one can find all of the strange metaphors that people were using to build webpages which can give you clues to how we adapt (or not adapt) to new technologies. The early web was rife with book and magazine metaphors: there are websites out there built in the mid-90s that used a spiral bound notebook motif. 

Another strategy for finding old webpages is to search for terms like "Optimized for Netscape 2.0" - that was something that we actually bragged about. This search will help you uncover riches such as:
Yes! We are optimized!
If you really want to go old school you can still explore "Gopher Space." That was where really sophisticated cybernauts in the 90s searched for information.
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