How to find a passed website with the Internet Archive

One special thing about the internet, for better or worse, is that few things ever really die. That’s largely not because websites don’t actually die—they do!—but because the Internet Archive does the really hard work of preserving them. I’ve written at length about digging up lost documents and how preserving them is like giving new life. 

I love exploring the Internet through the Internet Archive. For example, I was recently reading through Aesop’s book, and noticed a mention of city guides. I noticed they hadn’t published many recently, but I was hoping to check one of them out. I found a link to one—which led to a page that has since been removed. I visited the Internet Archive and found no snapshots for it.

Something like this usually actually is more intriguing for me; I find the process of searching really fun. So, I start digging: 

  • What were the other cities covered in the guides? Could I change the URL to find one?
  • I noticed the /au/ in the URL, were there other regions that the Internet Archive might’ve been able to preserve?
  • Around what date and time did these articles get published? Can I find a blog post or another more ephemeral piece of content that didn’t get removed?

I ask myself a lot more questions, but most of it is instinctual and tacit, not intentional. It’s just searching. 

Eventually, I came across a couple of hints: an official Aesop tweet that these guides were live around 2015. I also realized that the Internet Archive had many more snapshots in the Aesop /usa/ website for city guides in 2015, so I decided to pull that up.

And voila! Eventually, I found myself at the Los Angeles city guide.

I first came across this method when I was compiling quotes for The World According to Kanye, and wanted to dig up the Kanye UniverseCity archives. For example, here are some of his sketches for the Glow in the Dark Tour.

The Internet Archive is a really important organization that provides the raw material for approach of searching. Then, it’s up to each of us to collect and preserve this stuff. We may also choose to breathe new life into it by sharing and showing its charm, and making it accessible to people again. What Cameron Koczon and Fictive Kin have done for Marc Andreessen’s blog posts is a version of this.

I didn’t see much non-hobbyist value in this skill, until one day I saw Jason Fried offer a $1,000 reward for finding a blog post he wanted to reference. A couple of possibilities:

  • Start a Twitter account like TechEmails, to let people know that they can find dead links from websites.
  • Teach people to DIY. (Like this post kinda starts.)
  • Start a service that allows people to put up rewards for websites, like Jason Fried did.

If this sounds interesting to you, give it a try! I already have my hands full and I’ve realized I’ll have way more ideas than I’ll ever be able to do myself. (That’s a good thing!) If you appreciate this idea, the best way you can support my work is to buy my book, Creative Doing.

Or, if you want to work together, please shoot me an email and I’d be happy to share more thoughts!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *