Recently I remarked on Twitter, “I should donate to archive.org more. They’re how I know that large parts of my own past actually happened.” By “archive.org” I meant the Internet Archive, the organization that runs the Wayback Machine and many other projects. Here are three stories from 2017 about what I mean by that remark.
In March, a friend asked me if I still had the syllabus from a course we took together in 2003. She was applying for a fellowship and was trying to remember if the work she’d done in the course fourteen years ago was relevant. I did not have the syllabus, but I had kept a lot of stuff from the course, and one of the documents that I still had happened to include a URL for the course website. That URL no longer worked, but the Wayback Machine had an archived version of it, and from there I was able to find the archived syllabus for my friend and help answer her questions for the fellowship application. I was excited that I was able to put together information from two sources — my own records (on paper, in a physical file folder!), and the Wayback Machine — to track down the document my friend needed.
In October, my friend Chris tweeted something that reminded me of how, back in the early 2000s, LiveJournal Support volunteers had a custom of saying “manatee” to mean “mentee”. You could be someone’s “support manatee” as you were learning how to do support work. I remembered that this usage was common enough to have been enshrined in the LJ Support Guide at one time. The current version of the Support Guide is a shadow of its former self, and it certainly doesn’t say anything about manatees. But I went to see if the old Support Guide I remembered was on the Wayback Machine, and it was (search that page for “manatee”)! It meant a lot to me to see that something from the culture of a community I cared a lot about in 2004 had been preserved.
Finally, most recently, I was trying to find materials I developed for a course I helped teach in fall 2011. To my embarrassment and frustration, the course website had long since disappeared. I scoured my email archives and files for anything I could find about the course and came up mostly empty-handed. Then I remembered to check the Wayback Machine. Sure enough, the labs that I developed on the LilyPond music notation system and on Markov models for text and music generation were there. So was a page documenting a project our students had done that had built on the concepts those labs introduced. I’d forgotten about that student project, and finding it again brought me joy at a time when I needed it.
So, I’m including the Internet Archive in my end-of-year charitable giving. If you, too, have stories like mine and can afford to help them out, now is a great time to do it!