WebCami’s Toolbox: The Wayback Machine

The Wayback Machine is an online archive of the internet.  It was started by a non-profit in 2001 and automatically records its “visits” to a website, creating a snapshot of the content that existed at the time.  This tool is so powerful for so many reasons!  I use it weekly (and donate to it annually) because it helps me be a better web designer.

Webcami.com on the Wayback Machine.

What we put on the internet can live forever.  Now,  you can see that my own website has been indexed 242 times over the last 17 years.  Yes, I’ve had my website THAT LONG!  The archive loses photo (after all, they no longer live on a server), but text is easy to see.   Buick was finishing up preschool (he’s now 21) and I had just posted my first website portfolio.  OMG.  I have a hit counter!

And here’s my site while on vacation in Maui:

So, you can see how this will historically capture pieces of a website.  You might be wondering,  how is this going to help me be a better web designer?  Here’s a great example:

In 2015, I started a client care plan to back up, virus scan and update my client websites.  I had many people sign up but other clients “had it covered”.  One of those clients runs a non-profit and of course needs to watch every expense. But the back ups they thought they had didn’t exist and they didn’t figure that out until it was too late.  They asked if I could help and unfortunately, since they weren’t part of my care plan, I didn’t have a back up we could use (I make sure all my clients don’t expect me to be a back up resource in my contract). I told them I would see what I could do. It was one of the most extensive pharma hacks I had ever seen.

I suggested a complete rebuild of the site.  But instead of using all the pieces without any history to go on at all, I turned to the Way Back Machine to see what I could find.

I was able to find a lot of history to rebuild the site with, including the stylesheet file.  Along with the images I had saved from the original development, I was able to piece their site back together and the Wayback Machine helped me along the way.

The Way Back Machine can help you:

  • Recover content from a hacked or lost website
  • Research a potential client by seeing how often they’ve redesigned their website over the years
  • Show you how you’ve grown as a designer – my archived site includes FRAMES. OMG.
  • Remind you how far the internet has evolved

When all else fails, you might have the Internet Archive to fall back on.  Don’t forget about this important tool.  Recovering a lost css file might save you!

This is a long planned blog post that I’ve updated because of recent news about it.  For those that don’t follow politics, let me fill you in:

Joy Ann Reid, a host on MSNBC, is disputing that she wrote some very controversial blog posts about the LGBT community back in the day.  A resourceful reporter scoured the Wayback Machine and found these posts and let’s just say, “outed” past bigotry.  Joy Ann Reid said the posts were the result of a hack and asked they be removed from the archive.  Her request was denied.

RESOURCES:  Forbes – How Much Of The Internet Does The Wayback Machine Really Archive?

About WebCami

Cami MacNamara has been designing websites since 2002 from her home office in Seattle, Washington. Her career started as a way to be a stay-at-home mom. Certification soon followed and persistence paid off. Cami has designed over 400 websites and wants to share what she learned along the way. Look for her at WordCamp Seattle.Follow: WebCami.com / Twitter / Instagram