The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the World Wide Web and other information on the Internet created by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization, based in San Francisco, California, United States. It was set up by Brewster Kahle and Bruce Gilliat, and is maintained with content from Alexa Internet. The service enables users to see archived versions of web pages across time, which the archive calls a "three dimensional index."
Since 1996, they have been archiving cached pages of web sites onto their large cluster of Linux nodes. They revisit sites every few weeks or months and archive a new version if the content has changed. The intent is to capture and archive content that otherwise would be lost whenever a site is changed or closed down. Their grand vision is to archive the entire Internet.
The name Wayback Machine was chosen as a droll reference to a plot device in an animated cartoon series, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. In one of that animated cartoon's component segments, Peabody's Improbable History, lead characters Mr. Peabody and Sherman routinely used a time machine called the "WABAC machine" (pronounced wayback) to witness, participate in, and, more often than not, alter famous events in history.
Origins, growth, and storage capabilities
In 1996 Brewster Kahle, with Bruce Gilliat, developed software to crawl and download all publicly accessible World Wide Web pages, the Gopher hierarchy, the Netnews (Usenet) bulletin board system, and downloadable software. The information collected by these "crawlers" does not include all the information available on the Internet, since much of the data is restricted by the publisher or stored in databases that are not accessible. These "crawlers" also respect the robots exclusion standard for websites whose owners opt for them not to appear in search results or be cached. To overcome inconsistencies in partially-cached web sites, Archive-It.org was developed in 2005 by the Internet Archive as a means of allowing institutions and content creators to voluntarily harvest and preserve collections of digital content, and create digital archives.
Information had been kept on digital tape for five years, with Kahle occasionally allowing researchers and scientists to tap into the clunky database. When the archive reached its fifth anniversary, it was unveiled and opened to the public in a ceremony at the University of California-Berkeley.
Snapshots usually become available more than six months after they are archived or, in some cases, even later; it can take twenty-four months or longer. The frequency of snapshots is variable, so not all tracked web site updates are recorded. Sometimes there are intervals of several weeks or years between snapshots.
After August 2008 sites had to be listed on the Open Directory in order to be included. According to Jeff Kaplan of the Internet Archive in November 2010, other sites were still being archived, but more recent captures would become visible only after the next major indexing, an infrequent operation.
As of 2009 the Wayback Machine contained approximately three petabytes of data and was growing at a rate of 100 terabytes each month; the growth rate reported in 2003 was 12 terabytes/month. The data is stored on PetaBox rack systems manufactured by .
In 2011 a new, improved version of the Wayback Machine, with an updated interface and fresher index of archived content, was made available for public testing.
In March 2011 it was said on the Wayback Machine forum that "The Beta of the new Wayback Machine has a more complete and up-to-date index of all crawled materials into 2010, and will continue to be updated regularly. The index driving the classic Wayback Machine only has a little bit of material past 2008, and no further index updates are planned, as it will be phased out this year."
In January 2013 the company announced a ground-breaking milestone of 240 billion URLs.
In October 2013 the company announced the "Save a Page" feature which allows any Internet user to archive the contents of a URL. This became a threat of abuse by the service for hosting malicious binaries.
Between October 2013 and March 2015 the website's global Alexa rank changed from 162 to 208.
|Number of pages archived
Use in legal evidence
Netbula LLC v. Chordiant Software Inc.
In a 2009 case, Netbula, LLC v. Chordiant Software Inc., defendant Chordiant filed a motion to compel Netbula to disable the robots.txt file on its web site that was causing the Wayback Machine to retroactively remove access to previous versions of pages it had archived from Nebula's site, pages that Chordiant believed would support its case.
Netbula objected to the motion on the ground that defendants were asking to alter Netbula's web site and that they should have subpoenaed Internet Archive for the pages directly. An employee of Internet Archive filed a sworn statement supporting Chordiant's motion, however, stating that it could not produce the web pages by any other means "without considerable burden, expense and disruption to its operations."
Magistrate Judge Howard Lloyd in the Northern District of California, San Jose Division, rejected Netbula's arguments and ordered them to disable the robots.txt blockage temporarily in order to allow Chordiant to retrieve the archived pages that they sought.
In an October 2004 case, Telewizja Polska USA, Inc. v. Echostar Satellite, No. 02 C 3293, 65 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 673 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 15, 2004), a litigant attempted to use the Wayback Machine archives as a source of admissible evidence, perhaps for the first time. Telewizja Polska is the provider of TVP Polonia and EchoStar operates the Dish Network. Prior to the trial proceedings, EchoStar indicated that it intended to offer Wayback Machine snapshots as proof of the past content of Telewizja Polska's web site. Telewizja Polska brought a motion in limine to suppress the snapshots on the grounds of hearsay and unauthenticated source, but Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys rejected Telewizja Polska's assertion of hearsay and denied TVP's motion in limine to exclude the evidence at trial. At the trial, however, district Court Judge Ronald Guzman, the trial judge, overruled Magistrate Keys' findings, and held that neither the affidavit of the Internet Archive employee nor the underlying pages (i.e., the Telewizja Polska website) were admissible as evidence. Judge Guzman reasoned that the employee's affidavit contained both hearsay and inconclusive supporting statements, and the purported web page printouts were not self-authenticating.
Provided some additional requirements are met (e.g. providing an authoritative statement of the archivist), the United States patent office and the European Patent Office will accept date stamps from the Internet Archive as evidence of when a given Web page was accessible to the public. These dates are used to determine if a Web page is available as prior art for instance in examining a patent application.
Limitations of utility
There are technical limitations to archiving a web site, and as a consequence, it is possible for opposing parties in litigation to misuse the results provided by web site archives. This problem can be exacerbated by the practice of submitting screen shots of web pages in complaints, answers, or expert witness reports, when the underlying links are not exposed and therefore, can contain errors. For example, archives such as the Wayback Machine do not fill out forms and therefore, do not include the contents of non-RESTful e-commerce databases in their archives.
In Europe the Wayback Machine could be interpreted as violating copyright laws. Only the content creator can decide where their content is published or duplicated, so the Archive would have to delete pages from its system upon request of the creator. The exclusion policies for the Wayback Machine may be found in the FAQ section of the site. The Wayback Machine also retroactively respects robots.txt files, i.e., pages that currently are blocked to robots on the live web temporarily will be made unavailable from the archives as well.
Archived content legal issues
A number of cases have been brought against the Internet Archive specifically for its Wayback Machine archiving efforts.
In late 2002, the Internet Archive removed various sites that were critical of Scientology from the Wayback Machine. An error message stated that this was in response to a "request by the site owner." Later, it was clarified that lawyers from the Church of Scientology had demanded the removal and that the site owners did not want their material removed.
Healthcare Advocates, Inc.
In 2003, Harding Earley Follmer & Frailey defended a client from a trademark dispute using the Archive's Wayback Machine. The attorneys were able to demonstrate that the claims made by the plaintiff were invalid, based on the content of their web site from several years prior. The plaintiff, Healthcare Advocates, then amended their complaint to include the Internet Archive, accusing the organization of copyright infringement as well as violations of the DMCA and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Healthcare Advocates claimed that, since they had installed a robots.txt file on their web site, even if after the initial lawsuit was filed, the Archive should have removed all previous copies of the plaintiff web site from the Wayback Machine. The lawsuit was settled out of court.
Robots.txt is used as part of the Robots Exclusion Standard, a voluntary protocol the Internet Archive respects that disallows bots from indexing certain pages delineated by its creator as off-limits. As a result, the Internet Archive has rendered unavailable a number of web sites that now are inaccessible through the Wayback Machine. Currently, the Internet Archive applies robots.txt rules retroactively; if a site blocks the Internet Archive, such as Healthcare Advocates, any previously archived pages from the domain are rendered unavailable as well. In cases of blocked sites, only the robots.txt file is archived.
The Internet Archive states, however, "Sometimes a web site owner will contact us directly and ask us to stop crawling or archiving a site. We comply with these requests." In addition, the web site says: "The Internet Archive is not interested in preserving or offering access to Web sites or other Internet documents of persons who do not want their materials in the collection."
In December 2005, activist Suzanne Shell filed suit demanding Internet Archive pay her US $100,000 for archiving her web site profane-justice.org between 1999 and 2004. Internet Archive filed a declaratory judgment action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on January 20, 2006, seeking a judicial determination that Internet Archive did not violate Shell's copyright. Shell responded and brought a countersuit against Internet Archive for archiving her site, which she alleges is in violation of her terms of service. On February 13, 2007, a judge for the United States District Court for the District of Colorado dismissed all counterclaims except breach of contract. The Internet Archive did not move to dismiss copyright infringement claims Shell asserted arising out of its copying activities, which would also go forward.
On April 25, 2007, Internet Archive and Suzanne Shell jointly announced the settlement of their lawsuit. The Internet Archive said it "...has no interest in including materials in the Wayback Machine of persons who do not wish to have their Web content archived. We recognize that Ms. Shell has a valid and enforceable copyright in her Web site and we regret that the inclusion of her Web site in the Wayback Machine resulted in this litigation." Shell said, "I respect the historical value of Internet Archive's goal. I never intended to interfere with that goal nor cause it any harm."
Davydiuk v. Internet Archive Canada
In 2005, Yahoo! Search began to provide links to other versions of pages archived on the Wayback Machine.
- Official website
- Official mirror of the Wayback Machine at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina