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The “Delete” button is a two-edged sword. It makes you feel safe online. Tweeted something you shouldn’t have? Delete it. But that same delete button can also be used to silence free speech and take down organizations like The Pirate Bay.
What if you couldn’t delete data from the web? What if information on the net lived on forever? That’s exactly what a few people want to do. They’re ready to offer it for free as a service, they’re ready to let you download it, and they’re ready to enlist you in an attempt to protect the Internet’s core value: that information should be free and it should live on.
Internet Archive: The Wayback Machine
Brewster Kahle, an Internet Hall of Fame inductee, created the famous Alexa ranking system for the web. Alongside, he was working on a different project: archiving everything that the Internet has.
The foundation of this pursuit lies in Kahle’s belief of universal access to all knowledge. In fact, he has expanded his vision to create a digital library of every book ever printed, every song ever composed, every movie ever filmed, and so on. Check out his TED talk for details on that.
The Internet Archive is exactly what it sounds like: a source for everything that the Internet has ever uploaded. It has been cataloguing data since 1996, so there are plenty of cool content treasures you can dig up. Kahle also made the Wayback Machine, which is a simple way to visually time-travel into the Internet’s history.
So how big is all this?
As of December 1, 2014, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine contains almost 9 petabytes of data and is currently growing at a rate of ~20 terabytes per week. This eclipses the amount of text contained in the world’s largest libraries, including the Library of Congress.
The Internet Archive doesn’t save every single bit of content – that would be unfeasible, Brewster tells Commons Magazine, since the Internet is growing at the rate of one billion pages per week. Instead, the archive selects data that it thinks is part of the public’s conversation.
“For example, we haven’t archived everything on YouTube; instead, we just try to get the important parts of YouTube. This gets into your question of curation. How do we tell what’s important? Any YouTube that’s linked to from Twitter goes into the archive. That’s our way of selecting YouTube videos.”
Open-Sourcing YouTube, Downloading Wikipedia, Archiving Reddit & More
The Internet is unique in that it gives anyone a platform to publish their content, whether it’s written words or moving images. Wikipedia, Reddit and YouTube are arguably at the forefront of this type of content creation.
Wikipedia might incessantly ask you for money, but you know that the information is safe and the content itself is free – you can legally download all of Wikipedia. Head over to Wikipedia Dumps to download the entire database of the Wikimedia Foundation. In fact, it encourages you to do that and set up your own mirror.
While it’s not officially associated with Reddit, there’s also the Reddit Archive, making sure the Internet’s front page is not going anywhere. For individual comments, Uneddit is a bookmarklet that reveals those deleted comments you sometimes see on Reddit. When you delete a comment on Reddit, it’s not actually gone, and now you can see it.
Uneddit’s makers are committed to teaching the web a lesson: “When you post something on the Internet, it is saved forever no matter where or how you post it. Giving people the impression that they can remove content from the internet is what’s actually unethical. This site was created to raise awareness of this fact.”
Entrepreneur Helder Ribeiro has something similar in mind for YouTube, but he wants your help. The Internet isn’t really free, it is often censored. YouTube takes down videos often, and OpenNet has traced its recent history to prove that. Ribeiro wants to counter that with Guerilla Open Tube.
Participants will have to install the Github repository he created, publish a torrent of a downloaded video file, and create a forked repository. The idea then is to find other repositories, merge their content, and keep seeding videos on torrents. “Voilá! We have a distributed, censorship-resistant cache of YouTube!” writes Riberio.
Saving Torrents & The Open Bay
The “access to information” argument usually comes back to torrents at some point, which is where matters get murky. Recently, the largest torrent site The Pirate Bay was shut down. Some argue that safe torrenting died with it.
Essentially, The Open Bay open-sourced the code of Pirate Bay and gives anyone the tools to create their own Pirate Bay and host it. Apparently, about a thousand people from all around the globe were involved in the effort.
“We’re not a team, just enthusiasts that come and go. People that we trust,” The Open Bay’s representatives told us.
The setup is super-simple, and anyone with a basic knowledge of web hosting can have an Open Bay project up and running in 10 minutes.
“We want to change the landscape. Torrent industry is frozen for 10 years. We need to push it further,” they say. “(In case other websites are taken down) we want everybody to be ready.”
An unintended off-shoot of that is people can make money off it – but The Open Bay initiative isn’t bothered by this.
“We are trying to provide opportunity for other people. How they will handle it, is there choice. We’re not making the rules, community does. If you’re smart enough, you can make money, and make the world a better place,” they say.
The undefined community’s voice defines the next steps. The community chooses torrents as the most popular because it’s fast and convenient. But should torrenting be saved at all? “It’s for people to decide,” The Open Bay answers. “If they want it to be saved they will save it, if not, than it should be gone.”