Roman numerals representing time form a rotating swirl in cosmic space.
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The Wayback Machine lets you view older versions of a website, see content that’s changed, troubleshoot your own site, and even view content that no longer “exists” on the web. The Wayback Machine is important for preserving Internet history.

What Is the Wayback Machine?

The Wayback Machine website.

Founded by the Internet Archive on May 12, 1996, the Wayback Machine is a free online service that crawls and takes snapshots of websites at different time intervals and then archives those sites, preserving the Internet’s history. The Wayback Machine was named after the Wayback Machine from The Rocky and Bullwinkle’s Show’s “Peabody’s Improbable History.”

Even though the Wayback Machine was founded in 1996, it was completely privatized and only certain people had access to the content. It wasn’t until 2001 that the Wayback Machine was available to the public. At the time of writing, the Wayback Machine has archived over 663 billion web pages.

Is the Wayback Machine Legal?

There’s a lot of gray area when it comes to the legality of the Wayback Machine. As an example, Europe may view the Wayback Machine as a violation of its copyright laws, and the creators of the archived content can decide if they want their content to be archived or not. If a creator wants to have their content removed from the Wayback Machine, then Internet Archive must oblige.

There have also been several legal cases against the Wayback Machine from organizations and individuals, such as the Church of Scientology, Healthcare Advocates, Inc., and others.

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Some countries have even banned the Wayback Machine completely, though that’s more based on censorship than any actual legal issue. The Wayback Machine is currently blocked in China and was blocked for a short time in Russia in 2015-2016.

The Importance of the Wayback Machine

The importance of the Wayback Machine is apparent. Preserving the history of the Internet is important enough, but you’re also able to go back and view an original source of content to see what it was like before updates to the content were made. This can be especially useful in an age of constantly-changing information.

How-To Geek in November 2006.

You can even use the Wayback Machine to troubleshoot problems with your website. Forbes even provides a sound argument for using it to troubleshoot SEO issues your site may be facing. You can even recover entire websites. Wikipedia, thanks to many bots and dedicated volunteers, was able to replace 9 million broken references thanks to the Wayback Machine.

Additionally, if a website is currently down, you can use the Wayback Machine to view the website. While there won’t be any new content on the site until the site owners fix the issue, you can still view older content.

Another cool use of the Wayback Machine is the ability to see websites that are no longer online. There are some shortcomings here, though. The Wayback Machine takes a snapshot of how a website looks at a certain time on a certain date. Depending on when the Wayback Machine took the snapshot, some of the content may be missing.

There’s also the issue of content hiding behind a sign-in wall. One instance I personally give is PlayOnline.com. Final Fantasy IX is a fantastic game. However, the BradyGames strategy guide is famously known as the worst strategy guide in existence. The reason is that it was largely an incomplete guide. In almost every section, in an attempt to drive more users to their website, they would add a side note stating something along the lines of “For more information on how to beat this boss, visit PlayOnline.com and enter this code: BS103.”

PlayOnline tip in FFIX.

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This, of course, was a problem for many players who bought the guide, as the Internet wasn’t as easily accessible to as many people in 2000 as it is today. To make matters worse? The portion of the website doesn’t even exist today. If you bought the strategy guide years ago, you’re out of luck. So, I tried to access it through the Wayback Machine.

Unfortunately, you had to have an account to log in to PlayOnline. Somehow I was still able to create an actual account, but it just sent me in an infinite sign-in loop. I wasn’t actually able to ever log in and access the content.

Regardless of the few shortcomings, the benefits of the Wayback Machine are tremendous and will always prove to be one of the most useful resources for preserving Internet history.

RELATED: How to Browse Old Versions of Websites

Profile Photo for Marshall Gunnell Marshall Gunnell
Marshall is a writer with experience in the data storage industry. He worked at Synology, and most recently as CMO and technical staff writer at StorageReview. He's currently an API/Software Technical Writer based in Tokyo, Japan, runs VGKAMI and ITEnterpriser, and spends what little free time he has learning Japanese.
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