Physical Science Blog

Experts are excavating a new dig: The World Wide Web

Digital archaeologists are looking for long-lost websites on the Internet

November 22, 2010

Machu Picchu, Mohenjo-Daro, Carthage, Pompeii… the Internet. The latter might not seem to naturally fit the pattern of the world’s greatest archaeological sites but, if you think about it, the Internet is a historically rich place. Almost every day, Google sheds a vestige of its old self and hundreds of websites in cyberspace are relegated to electronic antiquity. On November 13th, 2010, the 20th anniversary of the Internet, the Digital Archeology Exhibition kicks off in London, to commemorate its birth. The curator and team behind this exhibit are looking through old servers and hard drives to dig up the most interesting websites that disappeared from the digital world.

Curator Jim Boulton claims there are millions of abandoned hard drives and disks buried in rubble, containing the bright and original labors of the early Internet brains. In five years, he estimates, most of the websites we use today will be relegated to the same junkyards. So his team has picked out the greatest websites of the last two decades so all of us can take a walk down memory lane. Because most of these websites don’t work on our modern hardware, the exhibit transports us back to the retro technology of the 90’s. The websites are displayed on now-defunct laptops, using outdated software.

Some of the sites they’ve mined: Pixel Surgeon, a digest of creative, strange and fun things from the Internet that day; the psychedelic website Requiem for a Dream, based on the cult hit film; the Guinness Storehouse, an interactive website that navigates across the seven floors of a “pint-glass” shaped virtual building; Agent Provocateur, which allows the user to embark on an intimate, lingerie-filled web adventure; Fallen Vodka, a website that deliberately dysfunctions because “there’s more soul in imperfection” and the list goes on. I would link to them all if I could…

Even though the Internet doesn’t seem “old, the technology of a decade ago is equivalent to a former civilization, relatively speaking. I mean, doesn’t the Palm Pilot just seem primitive now? Two billion people now buy, sell, share, listen, participate and socialize on the Internet and there has to be a way to archive these complex lives. So, the team at Digital Archaeology brings a new historical intervention, to help preserve the cultural artifacts of the evolved Internet, for posterity.

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