History is one of humanity's most important technologies. By making records of our present, whether through writing, storytelling, oral history, or art, we give future generations the chance to learn and build from our own experiences. However, it has not always been an open technology. Though all people try in one way or another to make history, the creation of durable, valued records has often been restricted to those with the education, standing, and resources to do so.
The advent of the World Wide Web represents a new age in history-making. Any webpage, WIki article, Tweet, and image posted to the Internet can be retrieved, stored, and saved for the future. Luckily, many people have already realized this, and created tools which allow us to dive into our own digital past: web archives.
A web archive is a collection of internet resources, usually web pages, stored for long-term preservation and study. They can take many forms, from small archives concerned with a single topic, all the way to massive archiving initiatives that want to preserve as much of the internet as possible. Many are maintained by non-profit organizations who have made their archives completely free for public use!
The World Wide Web has become an integral part of modern human society. At the same time, it is a reflection of that society. It is, for good and bad, a place where we seek information, share ideas, make friends, and make history. A site like Twitter or Reddit can, at times, feel like a glimpse into the whole expanse of human thought. However, this view is ever-changing, as unsteady and inventive as the human mind itself.
A web archive does something nothing else can – show you how the internet, both as an institution and a reflection of humanity, has changed over time. The possibilities of this are truly endless. Web archives can help us research our past, speak truth to power, and understand ourselves more deeply. Additionally, web archive services can ensure transparency in politics, business, and non-profit work, by providing an easy way for organizations to meet transparency standards set forth by governments and other regulatory bodies.
Most importantly, web archives help us do what any good source of information should: satisfy our curiosity!
Time travel can be ours. -Van de Sompel et al,
Memento: Time Travel for the Web