Over the last few decades, an enormous amount of information has been created on the Internet. As the Internet has expanded exponentially during this time, unbelievable amounts of data have been posted. But what happens to all of this data? Does it disappear forever, or is there some way to retrieve it after it is gone?
You might think that all of these old websites have simply vanished into the ether, but this is actually not the case. While some information is gone for good, a surprisingly large amount of old data can be found on various website archives. These sites attempt to preserve the history of the World Wide Web so that future generations do not lose access to this material.
One issue that these sites have to deal with is the sheer quantity of storage space that is required. Every day, terabytes of data are created online. People post images, write blogs, do searches, modify databases, and so on. All of this information requires storage space, and if it is all to be preserved, this means that vast arrays of hard drives must be used to do so.
There is also the question of deciding what is worth storing and what is not. Obviously, there is a lot of data online that is not really worth saving for future generations. But who gets to decide this? Coming up with algorithms that can properly sort out this task is difficult, to say the least.
Once this information is stored somewhere safe, it must be made accessible to the public. Just saving data somewhere does not do anyone any good if there is no way to easily access it. To simply point people at a vast array of unsorted data without giving them any guidance is not very helpful.
Another question that is raised by this process is how many copies of a particular webpage should be stored. Since webpages are always changing, does a new copy need to be stored each time a change is made? What if the change is quite insignificant? Does a whole new copy have to be saved?
There are other questions involved in the archiving of the Internet, as well. For example, what if someone does not want their website to be archived? Should their wishes be respected, or should the site be archived anyway, in the interests of completeness? Can someone ask to have their information removed from the archive once it has been stored?
Of course, the various archive sites have considered all of these questions and come up with policies that address them. Different sites may answer these policies in different ways. For the most part, if you are simply interested in searching for an old website, you do not have to pay too much attention to such questions, since your main concern will simply be finding the information that you seek.
Many of these archives are fairly easy to search. A lot of them just use an interface like a standard search engine. You can type in the term you are looking for, and the archive will look for a match. However, since there is so much data in the archive, it can be difficult to find precisely what you want.
You can often also specify a specific date or range of dates. This way, you can find a website or webpage from a specific time, without having to look through all the different versions of the page. If you know when the information was online, this can be a lot easier.
Internet archive sites are trying to preserve a great deal of information for future generations. They are an invaluable resource for preserving our digital heritage.