Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hands-on Play: Internet Archive

This past week, I experimented with the Internet Archive to get real-world experience on how it works. I began by signing up for a "virtual library card," which is what a membership account is called in the Internet Archive. It was very easy quick, and I am now able to upload my own content, leave reviews of other members' uploaded material, post comments in the forums, bookmark items within the archives, and even check-out books that have been uploaded.

One of the most well-known facets of the Internet Archive is the Wayback Machine. This allows users to view archived webpages going back to the mid-1990s. The Internet Archive was originally founded with the specific purpose of archiving and preserving webpages because nobody else was concerned with saving such transitory digital resources. It can be quite entertaining to look at how sites have changed over time. For example, here is the homepage for UW-Madison on December 19, 1996:

In addition to viewing archived webpages, one can also subscribe to Archive-It, a service that allows people and institutions to schedule the archiving of all or some portion of their websites by the Internet Archive's web crawler. This is an important resource for institutions that lack the resources or expertise to preserve properly their online content on their own.

In addition to webpages, the Internet Archive also hosts digitized books and documents, video, audio, and live music recordings. These collections are largely user-driven, and there are a number of very active communities such as curating this material. A prime example of this is the Grateful Dead live music collection, which currently contains the recordings of 9,571 shows. The Internet Archive states, "We only host material by trade-friendly artists: those who like the idea of noncommercial distribution of some or all of their live material." Whether artists allow their material to be uploaded can and does change over time. The Dave Matthews Band originally permitted their live recordings to be distributed, but in 2003, the band's management changed that policy and requested the Internet Archive remove their content, which they did.

The Internet Archive seems to be quite user-friendly and a great tool for institutions and individuals to use to create their own digital collections. There are still some issues regarding copyright protection that still need to be ironed out, but all in all, this technology has been a resounding success for the preservation and distribution of digital material.

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