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Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Problems With the (Great) Wayback Machine

In the future we might have web archaeologists digging for old sites just like we have them in the real world. It won’t be an easy job either, as a single tool won’t suffice. I just wanted to check what Amazon looked like in around 1999, and the following were the first things I clicked on at the Wayback Machine:

Dec 12, 1998:

Jan 25, 1999:

Apr 30, 1999:

Oct 13, 1999:

The first three screenshots above are broken, apparently not showing what Amazon looked like back then (we get a rather new design, a blank page, and an error page). The fourth sample shot is better and may be what Amazon appeared back in 1999, but how can I trust it to give me the real deal considering the other errors of the Wayback Machine? Should a historian accept this without further verification? And what if I’m unsure if my browser of 2009 shows the same as users saw with older browsers back in 1999? And what if I want to see in its launch yearh when the Wayback Machine has 0 pages from 1995?

What will be the tools with which we’ll recover old websites in the future?


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