We’ve all been there. You’re hours into a wikihole researching characters who appeared on 80s sitcom Small Wonder. Somewhere between evil twin robot Vanessa and actress Tiffany Brissette, your focus shifts to the obscure 90s TV pilot Beanpole. You did through the reference material, find what seems like a gold mine and hit the link. Suddenly, your world shatters as you find nothing but an expired URL for a long-forgotten blog. The void of information returns you to your senses and you find yourself returning to your weekend drudgery. While this may end up making you more productive, it’s also unequivocally a bummer. The folks at the Internet Archive agree.
For those not in the know, the Internet Archive is the massive library of information over at Archive.org. Their most well-known feature is the Internet Wayback Machine, which saves and stores versions of websites for future reference. For example, warping back to October of 2012 reveals a Manadatory.com with a much darker theme and a different corporate master. Part of the reason why the web can truly never forget anything is that the Wayback Machine always remembers.
So, what does all of this have to do with late nights looking up forgotten TV? Earlier this month, the Archive.org team announced that they had fixed over nine million broken links on Wikipedias across the world. Over the past three years, an automatic bot has been scouring Wikis for dead-end links. Once one is found, the page is automatically edited to point towards the Wayback Machine’s version of that page rather than the 404. Six million of the broken links were fixed this way, with three million other links fixed manually by Wiki editors.
This type of automation isn’t fancy, but it’s projects like this that keep this massive series of tubes we call home up and running. So, the next time you’ve lost all track of time reading about obscure factual minutia, take a minute to thank the Internet archivists that keep these facts alive. As for me, it’s back to looking up Disney animators from the 1940s. I’m sure an old GeoCities page will give me the answers I seek.