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New Web Site Makes Internet Time Traveling Easier

Time traveling is coming to an Internet browser near you.

A new Web site called Memento Web will allow anyone curious about what the Internet used to look like to plug in a date and then browse the World Wide Web as it was on that day.

The site is already live with limited use. Users can enter a URL and the date on which they wish to see a version of the page the URL once called up.

That doesn’t mean they’ll get exactly what they were looking for. For example, a search for nytimes.com on November 17, 2006, returned a Web page dated December 8, 2007. Some searches don’t work at all.

People behind the site, financed by a grant from the Library of Congress, said that they were still working on it and that they hoped to get more money to develop it further.

Michael Nelson, an associate professor in computer science at Old Dominion University, leads one of the teams behind the project. He said the tool made it easier to see Web sites that have been archived already by organizations such as Internet Archive or by sites like Wikipedia.

Mr. Nelson compared browsing the Internet as it used to be to looking at yellowed newspaper clippings. ”Rather than reading about what the Web looked like, to be able to actually see what it looked like is very useful,” he said. His team at Old Dominion worked with a group at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop the tool.

An interesting wrinkle: Because only a sliver of all previous Internet content is archived, Web sites that appear in the search results may not appear exactly as they did on the day they were first posted. For example, a page for a news organization from December 2005 could pair an article from one day in the month with an ad or image from another day that same month. So the recreation that mementoweb.org generates could essentially be a mashup of items from around the chosen date. Eventually, Mr. Nelson said, the team hopes to post a disclaimer on each result that would estimate the result’s accuracy.

On Tuesday, Mr. Nelson traveled to Washington to explain the site to the Library of Congress. He said he and others working on the project hoped to develop it from a rough draft into something more final.

 

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