A truly digital online archive is a special kind of rabbit hole, strange to climb into for two reasons. First of all, the history is so recent—few web archives can take you back to the 1990s, even—and yet so much about the look and feel of the internet has changed dramatically. Secondly, most of the best web archives are still deeply broken. They offer only a deteriorating echo of what once existed and link rot is everywhere.
And yet snapshot views of the web can be a fascinating way to capture the flavor of the internet as it once was. This is how the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine organizes its screen captures—you can search various sites by how they looked on certain days—and it’s how Techmeme’s ingenious new timestamp works.
At the top of Techmeme’s page, if you click on the date and time, you’re given the ability to enter some other date, back to the year 2006. (Sadly, you can’t travel forward into the future of Techmeme coverage. I tried.)
What you get is a glimpse of a moment in time, which makes the feature fantastic if you know which days in tech history were especially newsy. Maybe you want to revisit June 30, 2007, for instance, the day after the iPhone was introduced. Or October 6, 2011, the day after Steve Jobs died, to see the flood of remembrances. Or May 18, 2012, the day Facebook went public.
A more haphazard approach to looking back may not be best for serious researchers focused on a single topic, but it’s certainly an entertaining exercise for tech enthusiasts.