Remember what Yahoo looked like in 1996? Or Google, when it graduated from Stanford and went live under its own URL in 1999? What about long-lost Infoseek, which has vanished entirely from the search engine scene?
If you can't recall the specifics (I can't!), a new service from the Internet Archive is available to help. The Wayback Machine is a search engine that contains over 100 terabytes and 10 billion web pages archived from 1996 to the present. It's an absolutely phenomenal gift to the web community.
The archive doesn't contain every web page ever published. Rather, it's a collection of "snapshots" taken over time. Simply enter a URL and your results are a table of links to specific dates when snapshots were taken and stored in the archive. Clicking the link brings up the page exactly as it looked on that date.
The Wayback Machine also has an advanced search form designed specifically to help the adventurous web archaeologist. You can limit your search to a particular date range, or even a particular date. Advanced search also offers some subtle options that reveal a very thoughtful approach to the design of the search interface.
For example, you can match a URL exactly to see a specific page, or you can request every page associated with a URL to see all archived pages from a site. You can also control whether aliases are shown -- for example, http://www.searchenginewatch.com, http://searchenginewatch.com, and http://www.searchenginewatch.com/index.html are all aliases that point to the same page.
Advanced search also provides controls for displaying redirected pages, file types, and duplicates. A helpful list of hints and tips for advanced search shows how to refine your query for a number of common types of searches.
The Internet Archive provides a number of "special collections" that are absolutely fascinating glimpses of historical web sites. These include snapshots from September 11th, the year 2000 election, U.S. government sites, and one that'll really get your nostalgic juices flowing, Web Pioneers.
The Wayback Machine was unveiled just last week, but has already been overwhelmed by users. The service is "intermittent" for the time being, meaning you won't always see a complete list of results for a particular URL. The Internet Archive is working to add servers, but expects the process to take "weeks."
In the mean time, there's still plenty available for viewing from the 100 terrabyte archive of the web -- and it's well worth the time spent journeying through the web that was.
The Internet Archive Wayback Machine
Wayback Machine Advanced Search
How Big Is 100 Terabytes?
Here's how the size of the Internet Archive's collections containing material dating from 1996 to the present compares to some familiar data banks.
Internet Archive Special Collections:
The tragic events of September 11, 2001, prompted web creators around the world to respond. This special collection of archived web sites preserves this unique moment in our history.
The United States Elections of 2000 were perhaps the most controversial elections in our nation's history. Use this collection to revisit the historic elections of 2000.
United States Government
This collection contains thousands of United States government web sites.
This collection highlights a handful of sites that played a role in the early internet.
Search Engine Gallery
Many search services are constantly changing their looks, both on the home page and on the results page, in order to better please users. The Search Engine Gallery tracks some of these changes, over time. Available to Search Engine Watch Members.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.