Way Back When

One of the really good web resources for internet researchers is the wayback machine maintained by the Internet Archive. I have to admit I am not good at using it, but I really should. This was pointed out by David Brake, PhD researcher in London:

You suggest in Personal Publication and Public Attention that “the only traces of this story exist in the blogs of those who blogged about it at the time (Mortensen, 2001). Damn the Pacific is no longer easily available”. You should note that the Internet Archive keeps records of many things including the site. (It disappeared when the couple broke up).

As you can see by looking at the last archived post, July 1st 2002, by stu, updates are on their separate blogs. Later on the internet archive has saved a short explanation, telling how they have broken up, giving an email for people who have donated money for the trip to write Lane to have them back. Sad, but very human. But anyway, this means that damnthepacific.org is fairly readily available, and that the world wide web is not quite as loose and transient as it might seem. —Torill Mortensen Way Back When (Thinking with My Fingers)

Brake makes a good point, and Mortensen is gracious to acknowledge it, but I don’t think the existence of the internet archive undermines her point about the looseness and transience of the WWW. (Of course, Brake never claimed that it did…)

It’s true that web-savvy surfers who know about The Wayback Machine can find information that goes missing when a site disappears, but because there is no universal and automatic method of forwarding visitors to the archived versions, the broken links do put a barrier between the reader and the information being referenced.

The barrier isn’t insurmountable, but because online writers typically write as if the material to which they link is instantly accessible, the transience of that material does affect the usefulness of the sites that are left behind.