Preserving the Internet of the Past, Building the Internet of the Future | WCAI

The internet is so ingrained in our daily lives, that it can be hard to remember life before it. And it changes so quickly it’s equally hard to know what the future might hold. One thing that’s clear is that more and more people will be connected and doing more and different things with this technology.

It’s a bit tricky to pinpoint when the internet began. Was it the first email? The first public network? What we do know is exactly when we started keeping a record of what’s on the web - October 26, 1996.

That’s the day Brewster Kahle launched Internet Archive. A computer engineer, internet activist, and digital librarian, Kahle draws inspiration from the Library of Congress and – further back – the great Library of Alexandria. Universal access to all knowledge is his ideal.

As early as 1980, the idea that internet technology could make that possible was floating around the computer science community. As technology improved, the idea grew. By 1996, Kahle could archive every page from every website every two months.

“It was kind of like what the search engines were doing,” he told WCAI. “Take a snapshot, and another snapshot, and another snapshot, and another snapshot, and we’ve been doing that for 20 years.”

Twenty years of the web is a lot of data. The archive is currently 265 billion pages. Internet Archive also includes music, digitized books, and just about anything Kahle can legally get his hands on.

“Whoever is going to be president in 20 years, we probably have her website [from] when she’s in high school,” he said.

That may seem unnecessary, even unwelcome, to some. Kahle concedes there is plenty on the web that isn’t intended for posterity, and Internet Archive respects requests to have content removed. But he sees value in preserving web content that might be lost inadvertently.

“Even though we use this metaphor of ‘page,’ which sounds like books, which sounds like permanent, it really isn’t,” he said. “The average life of a web page is only 100 days.”

In the Internet Archive, those ephemeral pages become part of a permanent record of our collective internet experience. Browsing the Internet Archive, one lesson is immediately apparent – that experience has changed a lot in twenty years.

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