A “Wayback Machine” for the Web

Ever wish you could somehow “retrieve” a public web page that has since been updated? Like going back via a time machine to see how site pages really were at a specific time in the past…would you believe me if I said this is possible?

It is possible. For some sites and given dates. Want to know the secret? Read on!

What is the Wayback Machine for the Internet?

The Internet Archive Wayback Machine is a service that allows people to visit archived versions of Web sites. Visitors to the Wayback Machine can type in a web address (URL), select a date range, and then begin surfing on an archived (old) version of the web. The Internet Archive Wayback Machine can make all of this possible for millions of websites, and according to their site, over 650 billion web pages!

Why on earth would I want to do that? Well for one, it’s a bit surreal to be able to visit a website just as it was in the past. It really is like virtual time travel. But beyond purely for the experience, there are concrete reasons why you might want to revisit a website exactly as it was in the past. Maybe you want to retrieve a relevant news article that’s been taken down from the media’s servers or perhaps you need to prove that you purchased something under different terms and conditions that those currently in force? Or maybe, like me, you’re miffed that the chatty gossip story you started to read but had to save for later has been taken down the very next day for “privacy concerns”, leaving you with unrequited curiosity as to what had been said about the poor woman whose sister booked her own wedding one week after hers (whaaat?). Whatever your motivations, you can find a previous version of popular public websites in just a few clicks.

How to Access Historical Website Files

Go to https://archive.org/web/. Don’t worry if you can’t remember this address, simply type “Wayback Machine” in your search engine (eg Google), and it should come up first or very near the top of the search results. The home page looks like this:

Type in the website URL in the box at the top (see blue arrow above). Then hit the “Browse History” button to the right of the text box. In my example I typed in mumsnet.com. (As with Google, you do not need to include “www.”) I then get back search results that show me a graph of all the snapshots that have been taken of my chosen site over the years. I can then choose a date for the version I’d like to see (see below, date circled).

Now before I show you the archived version of the site, I’m going to show you the relevant page of the site that’s live right now – where it shows that they’ve taken down the content. See below, first image. And now see the page I was searching for, once I went into the Internet Archive (“Wayback Machine”) and selected the date when the content had been live (see below, 2nd image). Success!

Other Practical Tips on Using the Internet Archive

I have more success when I type the homepage address into the Wayback Machine. If I’m looking for a subpage, I then use the archived (old) homepage to navigate to the page I’m looking for. The archive is not a static snapshot, so this works, although they won’t necessarily have captured every page of every site. For the above example, I put in mumsnet.com and only once it had come up on the selected past date did I then use it to navigate to the section I wanted (in this case “Talk” and then “Am I Being Unreasonable” subsections).

Be patient. It can take a hot minute to load the site pages, so be patient and don’t navigate away from the archive until it’s either brought up your site or told you it’s not available.

If you’re trying to prove a point to someone (eg that something actually did appear a certain way and you weren’t imagining it…), then take a screenshot of the archived page and share it with the disbeliever. If you need a refresher on how to do this, see our past post on how to easily take a screenshot from your computer or your iPhone.

If you learned something new today with this post, let us know with a “thumbs up” below. If you’d like to automatically receive new posts with tips how to use the technology you already own, then subscribe for free by entering your email address below. We promise to keep your details just between us.

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