Back to the Future – The Wayback Machine

Recently, I had an opportunity to look through some old family pictures. It was so delightful and meaningful to look back through these photos to recall different aspects of my youth more than 60 years ago. As I perused these pictures, I was so thankful that my parents had taken the time to capture these memories. Furthermore, such cameras actually used film and one had to take the exposed film into a store and wait for more than a week to view the resulting prints. So much … for “immediate” feedback.

Today, we have so many technical advances. For example, smartphones now double as cameras and Internet connectivity, with appropriate software, allows us to communicate not only by voice but also face-to-face in real time. However, I ask the very important question … who, today, is taking “snapshots” of your on-line blogs and web sites? Hopefully, in 60 years, you can look back and retrieve images and resources that you created in “the good old days” which helped educate your students, colleagues, and contacts world-wide.

Today, bloggers and web site designers, who embed links to enhance their message, run the risk that these external resources may, in time, disappear. Sometimes the original blogger has simply moved that particular resource, be it an image or a post, to a new location in his/her blog hierarchy. Other times, a web resource is moved from one server to another and the site domain name is changed. Such changes, to a remote resource, modifies the original URL address and the hyperlink becomes “broken”. When individuals click on such a damaged hyperlink, their browser generates a “404 error indicating that the file or directory cannot be found”. In a 2003 experiment, Fetterly et al., detected that one link out of every 200 disappeared each week from the Internet. Other studies indicated that between 3% and 5% of hyperlinks become “link rot” within one year.

Recently a reader contacted me to indicate that he had found an important broken link on my “About” page, which can be accessed by clicking the tab/link just below my blog banner image. He wanted to explore my old “Bits and Bytes” educational online newsletter. Unfortunately, when he clicked on this link, a “404 error” was generated.

Although I am meticulous in checking that all my links work properly before I publish each post, I can guarantee that there are many links throughout my blog that may now be broken like this one. However, this “Bits and Bytes” hyperlink, and the wealth of resources it accessed, was very important to me since I had invested so much time and energy during the more than 20 years that I edited and shared this monthly educational resource. When I was an Educational Technology Consultant for the Winnipeg School Division, the Internet URL that pointed to the “Bits and Bytes” resource was:

A few years after I retried in 2007, it was decided that the school division needed a new web presence and with it came a new, more secure, URL. Our familiar school division Internet address of: changed to

With this major domain name change, much of the old resources would need to be transferred into this new hierarchy to avoid becoming “link rot”. Unfortunately (in my mind), the “Bits and Bytes” online resources were not assimilated into this new web Winnipeg School Division web presence.  Following this action, anyone who clicked on a hyperlink that pointed to any items that were originally part of the “Bits and Bytes” resource, were now greeted with the “404 error” indicating that the result had disappeared.

However, when I was teaching students and teachers, we always reinforced that one should never share any private or malicious information, be it text or pictures, on the Internet because “you could never get it back”. Even if you were successful in removing the data from the initial site where you first shared it, your information may already have been acquired by other Internet mechanisms. This is true for both material that you later realized you shouldn’t have shared online as well as resources that you remain convinced should be shared with others.

The Wayback Machine
If you are interested in viewing websites or blogs from several years back, the Wayback Machine is an amazing tool. To date, this Internet archive has saved 430 billion web pages. In fact, January 24, 2016, will mark the 20th year that this unique “archiving system” has been capturing and saving cached web site pages.

Wayback-LogoTo use this tool, one simply visits the Wayback Machine and enters the URL:

  1. Locate the Wayback Machine in your browser.
  2. Enter the Internet address of the web site you wish to investigate in the field provided and click on the “Browse History” button.
  3. If the site was “captured”, you will be advised as to how many times the particular web site has been “saved”.
  4. The bar graph provides information as to which years were captured more frequently.
  5. When you click on a year in the bar graph, the months of that year are displayed below. The day(s) that the particular web site was archived are highlighted with a blue circle. The size of the blue circle provides feedback as to the number of snapshots that have been taken on a given day.
  6. Click on a blue circle date to get a glimpse into Internet history to see a “snapshot” of what that particular web site looked like, several years ago.

I encourage readers to play with the Wayback Machine to get a better perspective on how the interface works. For example, I suggest that you enter some of the following popular addresses which have been archived by the Wayback Machine and see what you can discover:

Retrieving “Bits and Bytes” Information
"Bits and Bytes" logoHowever, this post was written to help provide readers with a way to view the information and resources that were shared in “Bits and Bytes”.

To do so, follow the six steps above and simply enter the old “Bits and Bytes” Internet address of:  into the Wayback Machine’s search field.  The following display appears indicating that “Bits and Bytes” was archived 52 times beginning in 1999.

Wayback Machine-Screenshot[Readers may click on this image to improve readibility.]

For example, to explore archived copies of “Bits and Bytes”, click on the blue circle highlighting April 4, 2005. This process will provide you with an opportunity to select either the “Current Issue” or “Current Year” hyperlinks on the left side. However, if you click on the “Other Years” pull down menu, you can then select a specific year and month to see articles and resources that were shared during that period.

B & B - pull down-400x350Although there may be many images that do not display properly within this cached archive, I was pleasantly surprised to find that one could still download the various resources that were shared in the “Freebies” section at the end of each monthly issue.

In my early years as a computer education consultant, I worked closely with Christie Stefaniuk (now Christie Whitley). One of Christie’s insightful quotes was “As educators, we need to look back at our past, to recognize how far we have progressed”. Undoubtedly, the Wayback Machine allows us to look back, so that we can improve, as we move forward into the future.

Take care and keep smiling 🙂

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