The Internet Archive is probably the most important site that most people have never heard of, much less used. It is an amazing thing: not just a huge collection of freely-available digitized materials, but a backup copy of much of today’s Web, available through something known as the Wayback Machine. It gets its name from the fact that it lets visitors view snapshots of vast numbers of Web pages as they have changed over the last two decades since the Internet Archive was founded — some 279 billion pages currently. That feature makes it an indispensable — and generally unique — record of pages and information that have since disappeared, sometimes because somebody powerful found them inconvenient.
Given the way the world is going at the moment, that’s a problem that is likely to get worse, not better. The founder of the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle, is worried about that prospect, as he makes clear in a blog post:
On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change. It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change.
For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It means preparing for a Web that may face greater restrictions.
It means serving patrons in a world in which government surveillance is not going away; indeed it looks like it will increase.
Throughout history, libraries have fought against terrible violations of privacy — where people have been rounded up simply for what they read. At the Internet Archive, we are fighting to protect our readers’ privacy in the digital world.
Ever the visionary, Kahle has come up with a bold plan to minimize possible damage from the incoming US administration, and any new laws harming the Internet that it might introduce:
So this year, we have set a new goal: to create a copy of Internet Archive’s digital collections in another country. We are building the Internet Archive of Canada because, to quote our friends at LOCKSS, “lots of copies keep stuff safe.” This project will cost millions.
Creating a backup of the Web’s backup in this way would have been a great idea under any circumstances — it’s rather foolish to depend upon a single site to preserve humanity’s collective digital memory. But it becomes even more prudent given the “radical change” that may be coming. And locating outside the US jurisdiction, in Canada, is a wise move.
As Kahle says, the project will cost millions, and he’s asking for donations to help him realize his plan. As anyone who has used the Internet Archive knows, he deserves our support for what he has already achieved and made freely available through this invaluable resource. But supporting the next stage of his great project with a donation takes on an additional importance: it is not just a nice thing to do, it’s a wonderful way to help the Web become more resilient to whatever 2017 may start throwing at it.