As a doctoral student in anthropology at Yale University, Spencer Kaplan often relies on the Internet Archive for his research. He is an anthropologist of technology who studies virtual communities. Kaplan said he uses the Wayback Machine to create a living archive of data that he can analyze.
Last summer, Kaplan studied the blockchain community, which is active on Twitter and constantly changing. As people were sharing their views of the market and helping one another, he needed a way to save the data before their accounts disappeared. A failed project might have prompted the users to take down the information, but Kaplan used the Wayback Machine to preserve the social media exchanges.
In his research, Kaplan said he discovered an environment of mistrust online in the blockchain community and an abundance of scams. He followed how people were navigating the scams, warning one another online to be careful, and actually building trust in some cases. While blockchain is trying to build technologies that avoid trust in social interaction, Kaplan said it was interesting to observe blockchain enthusiasts engaging in trusting connections. He takes the texts of tweets to build a corpus that he can then code and analyze the data to track or show trends.
The Wayback Machine can be helpful, Kaplan said, in finding preserved discussions on Twitter, early versions of company websites or pages that have been taken down altogether—a start-up company that went out of business, for example. “It’s important to be able to hold on to that [information] because our research takes place at a very specific moment in time and we want to be able to capture that specific moment,” Kaplan said.
The Internet Archive’s Open Library has also been essential in Kaplan’s work. When he was recently researching the invention of the “corporate culture” concept, he had trouble finding the first editions of many business books written in the late 80s and early 90s. His campus library often bought updated volumes, but Kaplan needed the originals. “I needed the first edition because I needed to know exactly what they said first and I was able to find that on the Internet Archive,” Kaplan said.