I have been researching my dissertation for so long that webpages have actually died of old age or other causes since I started gathering Internet sources on my topic. If I want to go back and see the page I have the address for, whether saved as a bookmark or cited in a source I’m looking at, I am left with a “sorry we missed you” sort of error message where the Internet page should be. Not even a ghost or echo remains. In dire situations, Google can’t find a newer version of the page. This is often the case with academic websites, where a professor posts a published article, but then doesn’t teach the relevant course any longer or has moved to a different university so the page is removed.
My first response is an aggravated scream at the Internet’s lack of fortitude to hang in there until I finally finish my research. My second response is going to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Don’t get distracted by that first link to the Internet Archive, as you will get lost in this virtual “library” and never get to the second link that I want to show you. The Wayback Machine is a collection of saved webpages from the Internet’s entire life (…okay, not that long, but back into the 1990s).
Put in the URL (web address) for your dead webpage, click Browse History, and you’ll get a timeline and calendar with access to pages that were saved on certain days throughout the website’s existence. This isn’t the Holy Grail, though. If there are copyright restrictions (e.g., YouTube, CNN.com), then the page likely wasn’t saved or was removed once the copyright violation was detected. Also, there aren’t always saved screens for the exact time you need. In other words, the webpage you’re looking for was posted in March of 2005, but there isn’t a saved screen from that time.
While the Wayback Machine doesn’t always produce what I am looking for, it is better than nothing. It’s also fun to look at how far we’ve come in webpage design….maybe only geeks appreciate that sort of retrospect.