Do websites ever disappear? Where does that information go? Learn about the internet’s backup system and how it works.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Ronni: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: Hi, Ronni.

Ronni: Okay, so I know that we have talked about the book or the novel by Orwell, George Orwell 1984. Yes. About that on here a lot, I’m sure, and it keeps coming up, but I’m going to mention it again today too because it is relevant. But first, we’re going to talk about the internet archive. So, Brittany, do you know what the internet archive is or how would you describe it if you do? I

Brittany: Was just going to assume this is all, everything that’s ever been uploaded to the internet is just there. Am I wrong?

Ronni: Yeah, your kind of right. Do you ever use the internet archive?

Brittany: Oh, so it’s not just a general term. I was just thinking. Well, an archive too. Let’s back up real quick. Archive is like what is an archive?

Ronni: An archive is a place where you store old stuff, old documents, usually old files, and anything that we need to save for posterity, which means to save for the future so that we can look back on it. So, that’s an archive.

Brittany: Okay. Yeah. Perfect. Okay. So when you’re talking about, and maybe I don’t know what it is, because when you talk about internet archive, yeah, I thought it was more of just saying like, oh, the Internet’s a place where we keep all our old information, so I don’t think I know what is an internet.

Ronni: I get to teach you about something.

Brittany: Yes, I’m excited.

Ronni: And maybe I can encourage you of the importance of the internet archive. And same with any of our listeners who might not know what the internet archive is. I’m going to introduce you to something that personally I feel is extremely important, but most people aren’t aware of. So lemme tell you about the internet archive. So, you know how everything online is, you can go to a website and it’s all there, but a year later you can go back and try to follow the link and sometimes you can type in the URL and you’ll be able to see the article or the blog post or whatever it is from a year ago, but sometimes it’s not there anymore. Well, what happens if you’re looking at something from 10 years ago, it can be even harder to find it because a lot of the times, so if you have a website, you have to pay to host it somewhere. You have to pay to store it on some servers out there on the cloud somewhere so that it stays live on the internet. If you stop paying those hosting fees, then your website that you put up stops existing on the internet. Now, anyone else who ever linked to your website, if your website disappears and they try linking back, nothing pulls up. So, let’s say that 10 years ago I wrote this really fantastic article talking about something that happened in my small little town that no one else talked about because at the time no one else cared about it, but I knew it was an important event and I wrote out all the details of it. So, let’s say 10 years later someone is realizing, oh, hey, is there any information out there about this event that happened 10 years ago? They’re like, oh look, this looks like it’s a website and they go to click on it, but the site is dead because I didn’t pay my hosting fees. Then the information’s lost for eternity, except we have this amazing thing called the internet archive. So, it’s a website, you can go and search for it. I actually think now that there’s, so the main internet archive I believe is run is I don’t know who runs it, but I do think that there’s now an archive of the archive. So, there’s like a backup of the archive and other websites you can go to. But if you type in internet archive, or you can also call it the way back machine.

Brittany: Oh, I know what the way-back machine is.

Ronni: Well, that’s the internet archive. It’s the same thing. But the way back machine is kind of the term that people use the search tool. So most people will go to the way back machine and type in what the URL that they want to find. But the whole thing is the internet archive because I think it also stores, I dunno, pictures or other things too. I’m not sure, but still, so why is it so important? That’s what we’re going to get to. So, I’m going to jump real fast. I know I talked about the book 1984, so we’re going to bring it up. So, in the book 1984 that even if listeners you are not familiar with, you’ve probably heard us talk about it a lot. It’s this dystopian novel that was supposed to be set in the future. That was then 1984. Of course that’s passed. But in this dystopian future, many really negative things are happening. And one thing is that the main character works for this department, and what he does is he corrects books. So, if something is in a book or a magazine or a newspaper, the government there tells him, oh, this is wrong. He goes and he corrects the book and then they reprint the book and then they put the new books or magazine or newspaper out on the shelf. So, it looks as though history has always been whatever this new correction is. Of course, at the time that the book 1984 was written, it was written in 1948. The idea of the internet was not who could even believe they put it in turn in the book, it’s written as, oh, they actually physically reprint the books. But of course, we don’t have to do that now because it’s way easier now. If you need to make a change, you just go into the backend of your website and go and you change whatever fact you want to, and then you press publish and now the webpage will say whatever the new fact is. So if you’ve decided that the sky is purple and you want everyone to think that their interpretation of what they look at when they look at the sky is purple, all you have to do is just change any websites people are going to go to for knowledge. And if you change them all to say the sky is purple, people when they’re like, what color is the sky? And they search it in Google, they’re going to be like, oh, the sky is purple. I don’t care what my eyesight is, it says right here, the sky is purple. So, to have that power over knowledge with the internet is extremely powerful, which then makes the internet archive an extremely powerful and valuable tool to connect us to the past of the internet.

Brittany: Also scary. That means everything. There’s a backup of everything you’ve ever done.

Ronni: It’s true, but it depends on how you look at it. It’s true. So, that is why the internet archive is so extremely important and serves as such a powerful tool to connect us to the past. Because, unlike the days in which people would write things in books, or even if they had pottery artifacts that would stay around for hundreds or thousands of years later, the things that we put on the internet are so easy to disappear. So, the internet archive, it will capture, it doesn’t capture every single thing on every single website, but periodically.

Brittany: That was my question. So, it doesn’t, okay, it doesn’t do everything.

Ronni: Not everything. Now on very large news websites, yes, it tends to get everything and takes multiple screenshots throughout the day, but if you have a smaller blog, it might go weeks before it does another screenshot of your website. So, one thing that I found is that if I ever go and I’m looking at someone’s blog or some smaller website, but there’s something posted on there that I think is really interesting information that I don’t want to get lost, I’ll go to the internet archive or the way back machine, whatever you want to call it, and you can plug in a URL and tell it to take a screenshot of it. So you put that in.

Brittany: That’s really cool.

Ronni: So, I think that’s been really valuable. Think in terms of all the changing information about COVID in order to document, if you see something up online and you think, oh, I bet they’re going to change this and they’re going to make it look like they never said this, go to the internet archive and then do a screenshot of it so that whatever was on the internet then will stay. So, that’s just a fun little tip that I do sometimes to help posterity remember the actual truth. Okay, so here’s just a fun story I threw in, but I first realized the importance of backing up what’s online in the internet archive or in some way. So, back when I was in my late teens or early twenties, this was the new internet world. Before social, there were people and a lot of youth who do online journals.

Brittany: Zenga, there was Live Journal and Zenga.

Ronni: Yep. Lots of different ones. So, I was someone who, I had an online journal, and it’s actually really interesting because, so, Mark Zuckerberg who created Facebook, part of his story of creating Facebook is he was creating a similar website first called Face Smash, I think, but on his live journal, which was his online journal, he was actually journaling about him creating it. So, even Mark Zuckerberg was using this online journaling before everyone moved to social media. So anyways, on my online journal, I remember at one point I realized, hey, what if I go back to a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago? And I go in on my backend and I change it, and I change it and I write something else and I pretend like something else happened on that day and I type that in and then push publish in the future. If anyone ever looked back, they would think that lie, the new lie that I had written in as the past, they would think that that was actually what had happened. And this at the time was this profound realization for me because I was like, whoa, how do we know what’s real online? That was before I even knew about the internet archive, but it still was like this big thing. So kids out there, I just want to let you know that the things that you read online, it’s kind of a weird world we’re in right now because everything is so temporary online and it can be changed very quickly. So, right now, the best tool that we have is the Internet archive. You should go and check it out. If you ever read anything online and you’re like, I wonder if this news organization changed this and it used to say something else, I wonder what it used to say. You can copy and paste the URL, go to the internet archive, type it in, and then see any of the past versions of the article. So that’s been really helpful, I think to combat the whole 1984 dystopia of we control the past, so we control the future type of thing.

Brittany: I love that. And again, I really didn’t know much about this, so that’s such a cool topic, Ronni.

Ronni: Oh, thanks. Yeah, fun.

Brittany: Awesome. Well guys, please don’t forget to like and subscribe and share this podcast with your friends. And until next time, we will talk to you later.

Ronni: Alright, see you soon.