I've known — at least conceptually — about the Internet Archive for years and years and years. You have too, if you have ever used the WayBackMachine to check out what the internet used to look like in the 90s. ("Friendster," "Ask Jeeves," hahaha.)
And I recently discovered while wandering around the Richmond District of San Francisco that it's actually a physical place, not just some weird techie thing that lives in the ether. It's a grand, classical style building that was formerly a church, of all things.
And after having spent an evening there, I have gotten the religion. I now believe that what the Internet Archive is doing is IMPORTANT, in the larger societal and species sense.
The Internet Archive backups a large proportion of the public internet. I mean, that's already freakin amazing. They started in 2001 with 10 billion web pages archived, and now have about 360 billion web pages. That's about 2 petabytes of data stored. Read more about it in their latest blog post about the WayBackMachine.
But that's not all.
The Internet Archive also contains terabytes of freely accessible and share-able media, from text and books to music, video and even software. FREE STUFF ONLINE.
It's the software part that really blows me away. There are probably millions of legacy software that can not be run on modern computers because those operating systems are no longer supported. You can go to the trouble of figuring out how to get an emulator for one system running on your computer to maybe play some Commodore 64 game you dimly remember from your youth. It will work, but it's a pain in the butt.
The Internet Archive wizard engineers have figured out how to get 300-some operating systems to run IN YOUR BROWSER. You could have every version of the Atari operating system running from Chrome, all playing different games. How epic is that?
Another amazing service the Internet Archive has started offering is their searchable TV News archive. TV news has played an important role in our democracy since the advent of television, informing and influencing public opinion, representing and sometimes misrepresenting what is happening in the world. Being able to go back in time and see how TV news has reported on events and issues is a powerful tool for activists, scholars and the general public.
With the TV News archive, you can search for specific text, and it will search through their growing archives for any instance of that text being used. You can grab a bit of view where that was stated (i.e. "obamacare") and then share a link to it. How sweet it that?
For example, I did a search for "lindy hop" and I discovered this neat video of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors commending the "Lindy in the Park" organizers for throwing the longest running free, open-air dance in the world. That took about 15 seconds.
So if you are in San Francisco, and you are at all interested in free access to information, a vibrant democracy, or just cool tech stuff, I encourage you to visit the Internet Archive on 300 Funston Avenue. You can literally touch the servers that are storing 15 petabytes of data, at the back of a grand church sanctuary.
And if you can contribute, I think it's a very worthwhile cause. I definitely will.