The Wayback Machine is a free tool that few know about, but that has the potential to really save you if you do something silly. It can also a source of fun memories. But most of all, it’s a great way to see your website’s progression from the time you started it until today.
What IS The Wayback Machine?
The Wayback Machine is a tool by the Internet Archive, which is a cool organization in itself. The Internet Archive has been crawling the internet since 1996, storing periodic caches of websites. Translation: it saves a working copy of your website (doesn’t have total functionality, but the pages can be viewed). The Wayback Machine itself is how we the public can view the archived versions of the sites.
The Internet Archive does this so that ephemeral things that exist only online, perhaps only momentarily, won’t be lost to future generations. For example, remember those very very early websites? Like Cool Site of the Day? Or Mirsky’s Worst of the Web? (Ok, I know I’m aging myself here, but don’t you remember some circa 1995 sites? If not, this article on the Wayback Machine will remind you that some of those sites are still live!) Well the great folks at Internet Archive didn’t want those sites to be lost to the ages, so they started caching (saving) them for future use. And the way we can now get to them is via the Wayback Machine. (Trivia: the name refers to the time travel device from Mr. Peabody’s segments in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.)
How to Use The Wayback Machine
This is a very easy tool! Once you’re on their page, you type in the name of the site you want to know more about, and click Browse History. The results should show you how many times they’ve cached your site over the years (they started doing this in 1996, so there’s a chance they’ll have your whole history!).
The results page then shows a timeline; click on a year, and a calendar will come up below it, and you can see when they looked at your page. Click a date, and you’ll be treated to some old-timey goodness!
You’ll find some a few shortcomings in there, like how they didn’t necessarily cache your images, of your Flash file, or your forms for downloading. But they capture most of it!
You may also find odd things that you didn’t know, like for DailyDogWalkers.com, there was a previous site with the same name; it was cached in 2003 through 2005, but was for a totally different company. There is a then a gap from ’05 – 09, when this cache began being taken of the site now based in Florida. Neat!
You can also see how web design has progressed. Most sites now feature dark fonts on light backgrounds because they’re easier to read. There aren’t many holdovers like this one any more (although I expected music when it loaded, but no longer…)
How it can help with your website
A. This tool can be a source of fun. It’s neat to see how your (or someone else’s) site evolved with time. How sites have become easier to read and navigate, and how they’ve become generally less confusing. Also, the whole idea that someone has thought to archive these for future generations is pretty darn cool. B. This can actually be a very good tool to use for your website.
The main way I see this being a help is that if your website changes (intentionally or not), you can usually ask your host to upload the backed up files they have for you. But what if the backup fails, or if your host doesn’t back up your site? In either case, you can use the Wayback Machine to at least see how it’s supposed to look. (I’ve done this for two clients recently; seriously, remember this site for the one time it’ll mean a lot to you!).
If you search for your site and it’s not available, there’s an option to tell the Wayback Machine to start caching your site. Use it! I just did for mine, and it’s been online only seven months. I’d love to look at the progression of it over time, and know that my site will be a part of history some day!
The Wayback Machine is tool hosted by the Internet Archive, who caches websites for historical and research purposes. The WayBack Machine allows you to view websites at various points since the site went live. This tool can be a big help to you in a time of crisis, so it’s good to know about it and keep it for future use!