Via BBC – It took nearly five years into the internet’s life before anyone made a concerted effort to archive it. Much of our earliest online activity has disappeared.
In April 2013, AOL abruptly closed down all its music sites – and the collective work of dozens of editors and hundreds of contributors over many years. Little of it remains, aside from a handful of articles saved by the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based non-profit foundation set up in the late 1990s by computer engineer Brewster Kahle.
Dame Wendy Hall, the executive director of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton, is unequivocal about the archive’s work: “If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have any” of the early material, she says. “If Brewster Kahle hadn’t set up the Internet Archive and started saving things – without waiting for anyone’s permission – we’d have lost everything.”
Dame Wendy says archives and national libraries had experience saving books, newspapers and periodicals because print had been around so long. But the arrival of the internet – and how quickly it became a mass form of communication and expression – may have taken them by surprise. The attempts to archive the internet have, in many areas, been playing catch-up ever since. “The British Library had to have a copy of every local newspaper published,” she says. As the newspapers have gone from print to the Web, the archiving takes a different form.
One major problem with trying to archive the internet is that it never sits still. Every minute – every second – more photos, blog posts, videos, news stories and comments are added to the pile. While digital storage has fallen drastically in price, archiving all this material still costs money. “Who’s going to pay for it?” asks Dame Wendy. “We produce so much more material than we used to.”
“The Internet Archive first started archives pages in 1996. That’s five years after the first webpages were set up. There’s nothing from that era that was ever copied from the live web.” Even the first web page set up in 1991 no longer exists; the page you can view on the World Wide Web Consortium is a copy made a year later.
Adafruit.com is a supporter of the Internet Archive.