Internet Archive from 1996 to the 2010s- Creating a Community with Web Design
Many websites’ history has been studied. But what about the website that allows us to understand Internet history itself, the Internet Archive? How has it come to be what it is now? How has the Internet Archive evolved to better achieve its goal from its foundation to now?
First, some background history.
In 1996, the Internet Archive was founded by Brewster Khale to preserve and maintain a historical record of the World Wide Web, to conserve human knowledge. The Internet Archive acts as an Internet library for scholars, historians, researchers, and students around the world.
In 2001, Internet Archive launched the Wayback Machine, in which a three-dimensional index was constructed to preserve and archive web content. People can use this archive to see millions of websites and their associated data, their previous web designs, the original source code, and even lost sites that disappeared long ago.
One of the Internet Archive’s main objectives is to offer universal access to an academic library with good collections. Hence, starting from 2005, the site embarked on a program to digitize books.
Since October 2013, the Wayback Machine included the “Save Page Now” feature, which allowed anyone to save a page and contribute to the Wayback Machine archive by putting in an URL, aligning with its mission of creating an accessible Internet library. Now, the site has collaborated with numerous international libraries and pays special attention to “orphan” works, which are works that are still in copyright but not commercially viable, and successfully archived billions of web pages, books and texts, audio recordings, videos, images, software programs, and more.
The Internet Archive’s web design has undergone dramatic changes throughout the years and such an evolution derives from a change in its self-branding and priorities.
Web design is how a website represents itself and a change in representation consequently affects user experience and the impact it has on popular culture.
In 1996, the Internet Archive’s simple and clean design reflects that its priority of that particular time was not to immediately create a diverse and organized Internet library for the public but to first establish a reputation and to expose the world to the idea of an Internet library. Different from most databases or archives now, this early web design does not have a search bar or any other category division that allows users to navigate easily and locate useful information. The three columns of texts revolve mainly around the website’s history and foundation story, with the mission statement in the middle. Perhaps due to technological constraints at that time, this design does not have many graphics or icons and uses hyperlinks to direct users to other pages, usually also pages about its history and background. The only information apart from the website’s history itself on this homepage is information about the 1996 U.S. Presidential Election. Therefore, it can be said that there was not much user or consumption experience at this early stage because it was only a beginning, and constructing an Internet library takes time to include and curate information. The adoption of a simplistic design most easily achieves the goal of self-introduction and self-promotion to new visitors and keeps its target audience, people interested in academia, excited for and anticipating future updates.
12 years later in 2008, after exploring and diversifying its content, the Internet Archive has redirected its priority to building an all-encompassing, easy-to-use, accessible, and engaging Internet library, hence changing its web design drastically.
The first major change is the emphasis on search bars and navigation of information. After Internet Archive launched its Wayback Machine feature, visitors can utilize this search bar to look for information they need. Unlike the 1.0 version, this web design places the search bar for the Wayback Machine at the center on the top of the page and even includes an “Advanced Search” feature to further make the user experience easier. As Internet Archive moved past its early days of establishing a reputation, the web design clearly prioritizes user experience more and ensures all users’ easy access to data. The self-introduction still exists but takes up a small portion of the page at the side. The second major change is the length of the homepage, with the 2.0 version being significantly longer. Below the search bar, the site categorizes its different data entries and sources just like what a normal library would do to help people find the right information. There are four categories: moving images, live music archive, audio, and texts.
Another key change is that besides acting as a database and search engine, Internet Archive also positions itself as an engaging site for users to casually visit and browse. Apart from offering the search feature, under each category of data, there is a curator’s pick and the newest review. The site welcomes people to use and engage with the site even if they do not have a specific piece of information that they are locating. This new web design makes it a lot easier to casually browse and helps maintain the site’s relevance. At the very bottom, the site also acknowledges the other sources and libraries that it collaborates with, creating this connected virtual community where users can smoothly travel from site to site for different purposes.
It is with this 2.0 web design that visitors to the Internet Archive started to have an actual user or consumption experience. Firstly, visitors can easily enjoy all the resources that this Internet library has to offer, searching for the information they need and contributing new data to the site if they want to. Yet most importantly, this new web design creates a sense of community that unites scholars and intellectually curious individuals to be engaged with these different databases and to keep up with new updates on any entry addition.