Using the Wayback Machine to Understand the Cultural Roots of New Technologies

As an academic librarian helping connect students and faculty with the research materials they need, Sanjeet Mann has turned to the Internet Archive many times.

“I really value having the Wayback Machine as an additional tool in my librarian’s toolbox,” Mann said. “Information preservation is an essential, but often overlooked, part of the infrastructure for teaching and learning.”

Mann, currently working as the Systems & Discovery Librarian at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), said he first learned about the value of the Internet Archive in 2006 during his library science master’s program.

Over his career, Mann has worked at various libraries, tapping into the Archive on the job.

Assisting budding writers, composers and artists as Arts Librarian at University of Redlands, Mann found that the vast amount of free information online, including biographies, can shape students’ projects.

“We can draw on the Archive whenever we need inspiration for creative work, or when we need to understand how current scholarship and the issues that we’re facing now aren’t completely new—they’re based on this history of work by scholars, by politicians, by citizens active in the public interest,” he said. “These issues tend to recur over time. As a society, we need to know where we have been in order to meet the challenges of the future.”

At CSUSB, Mann also helps computer science and business students use the Archive’s collections to better understand the cultural roots of new technologies—the historical context for their innovations.

“It is the only entity I’m aware of that preserves the Internet’s scholarly and historical record at this scale,” Mann said.

“I really value having the Wayback Machine as an additional tool in my librarian’s toolbox.”

Sanjeet Mann, librarian

On a practical note, Mann leveraged information through the Wayback Machine when he was researching how to set up a campus laptop loaner program for University of Redlands. This can be an essential service that libraries provide students who have trouble with their computers.

Mann wanted to understand policies at other universities, such as how they handled the return of damaged laptops. Looking at archived versions of university library websites through the Wayback Machine, Mann was able to learn about other approaches and find contacts to follow up for additional details.

The Internet Archive is a source to verify information that is no longer listed on websites, he said.

“Companies themselves don’t have any incentive to archive the history of their website. New products get launched. The platform gets migrated from one platform to another,” Mann said. “An organization like the Internet Archive, being a library, is uniquely positioned to meet the need in society of ensuring some kind of continuity of memory and having a public record. Especially with the government being very partisan these days, I think there’s value in the Internet Archive being an independent, not-for-profit that operates in the public interest.”

Mann added: “Without the Archive, we would lose decades of information about our society at a crucial turning point in its development, eroding trust in online systems and requiring educators, students and researchers to reconsider the way we do our work and share it with others.”

27 thoughts on “Using the Wayback Machine to Understand the Cultural Roots of New Technologies

  1. Adam

    “Companies themselves don’t have any incentive to archive the history of their website.”

    100% agree especially cloud hosting, file hosting (including image hosting).

    Old forums is where a lot of linkrots happen, images missing, download links going 404, etc.

    1. Adam

      A lot of these hosting sites have inactivity deletion policy, resulting content to have expiration dates when users don’t log in for a period of time.

      1. Tom

        Is ‘participation’ enough for the user to ‘overlook’ an implied contract, or do they miss out on the Internet altogether to avoid making the contract? That does not have a ‘definition’. I think the answer is that participation is worth being taken advantage of, and, therefore, no-one may be brought up on charges, regarding their participation in the Internet, this also must apply to people like Ross Ulbricht.

  2. Tom

    Archiving something (without its permission) that changes is intrusive and dangerous politically (thus we need to take people’s names off it) but because the machine needs to do that people will have to represent their statements frigging forever/we are putting machine thinking before what we do, again, bad; a better system would bind and publish things of interest, such as hashtagging, or the lies of Jeff Bezos; soon seventy-year-old politicians with their eyes on the White House will have to answer for what they said, right? Meaning nobody will say anything in the future. Congress needs to step in and remove the Archive .

  3. Tom

    Another act of Congress –to universalize game engines so that independent developers, just like websites running C++ back in the day, can make media, to be catalogued by the archive, otherwise we are looking at ‘technology’ cutting out smaller developers, making representation exclusive to billionaires. Why would I want to access my masters? Nobody is thinking. The only true information is what you can do, not what others have done, because the past is rigged, man.

  4. Tom

    27-year-old website suddenly wants to document 27 years ago, is that a confession the Internet was of its time, or that you guys are un-hip? One of the best ways to transition from a ‘student’ to NGAF is to know where the new money is coming from. Article on that problem.

  5. TM

    discovery to erode trust in founders/the new markets will be anti-technology +

    the new opportunity is ‘thinking’

    students need to be less interested putting emphasis on the past and develop themselves, the coursework will sabotage them there

  6. Tom

    The fact is the creators of technology all became public figures and own their likenesses. It is not for YOU to archive them. That is a major problem. The people were the newsmakers, not, as in the Victorian era, the concepts. You have this g-dam bias that you think you can treat public figures like they are free of charge. I sense a massive dead-end for anyone so gullible.

  7. Tom

    Help, I need access to teen suicide and school shooters’ online history, because forensic psychologists failed to compile that (see?)

  8. Tom

    Seems they may have fibbed about the Internet never losing anything. All those lost chat rooms and everything else, all that “You’ve Got Mail”. It was a myth. There is no Host. It would be, like, “Gross. I actually talked to you,” if there were one. The Host would be eliminated. Imagine there was a Host. “There is a thing out there that remembers me, gross.” Do you know how disgusting public resumes are? Employees given face time? Link me to the 10 or so celebrities that met their fans outside their apartments and were gunned down (John Lennon). What is an egregious example? Someone I see walking home after school. I get their name. Look them up on the Internet. Find their social media. Bump into them and we share likes. All so a putz can be a billionaire. Imagine if a Hachette pro-copyright enthusiast wanted to defend his rights from pirates. Like that Brazilian cult getting walked up on in the rainforest. People do not think about safety (at the Archive).

  9. TM

    Companies operating culturally on the Internet is misleading, they are interested in commodities–the best of which are all ancient technologies that predate the technology revolution, the phone, the computer, recordings, search, networking, hardware, software.

    1. TM

      It’s the perfect way to travel, You will come to my community, and I will come to your community, and, in the meantime, we still stay online–how dare you guys have Internet etiquette

  10. Tom

    Preserving what was never meant to be preserved (is a Constitutional issue), help keep usernames from being quoted by entities that do not operate with the original spirit, public display of mummified remains breaking the seal on trust (otherwise we have a case of abuse on that aging ‘information’ (which needs a definition)). ‘Linkrots’ and context shifts should help imply the user’s right to refuse these services. @Adam

  11. TM

    nine zero ability + thx to the archive + you guys snivel

    Sanjeet, you be Jeff Bezos. Use the archive to become overeducated + make insane moves (like me)

    Bye Sanjeet ! ! !

  12. TM

    business people should query the Associated Press’s S3, archived quarterly reports, biographies/ leave the philosophy to me/ computer science majors trying to catch old information is self-justifying navel gazing, right?

  13. Tom

    the rainforest people have no past, no one is trying to archive their roots, and nobody expects them to be done anything to but given, uh, monumental failure to see money first, and innovation second, we have the wrong people trying to change the world–over to you

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