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Old stuff online

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on April 18, 2003
(Issue 2116, Free and Easy)

One of my most distinct memories of growing up in Ohio in the 1960s and '70s was being at my grandmother's and listening with her to Paul Harvey on the radio.

To be honest, Paul Harvey seemed an old man then. But he possessed such a warm, comforting voice that I never really minded listening to him with Grandma, even if he was a bit boring to a kid.

Did I say "possessed"? As in past tense? My mistake.

A few months back, I'm switching channels on the drive to work, and I hear this very familiar voice telling us that Ray Conniff had passed ... confused me a bit at first. Was Paul Harvey still alive?

Once back home that night, went on the 'Net to check it out.

Indeed, not only is Paul Harvey alive and well and in the 53rd year of his daily show on ABC radio, but he's even embraced the Internet.

Now, may not be the slickest or most popular site on the Web, but it's professional and serviceable. It contains RealMedia versions of the last week's worth of his shows that you can listen to, and a page of links to his sponsors – in case you can't remember which pain-relief creme he was touting last week.

While none of this may seem remarkable, put it in some persective: when his current radio show began airing in 1951, neither "I Love Lucy" nor Johnny Carson had yet aired their first episodes. "Monday Night Football" – considered one of the mainstays of modern television – was still 20 years away. "Gunsmoke" was on the air ... as a radio serial. "Leave it to Beaver" wasn't even a proposal yet, and Andy Griffith was still doing standup comedy in the Carolinas.

And yet all these years later, here is Paul Harvey, in his mid-80s, still going strong. He recently signed a 10-year contract extension with ABC radio, meaning that for the foreseeable future, we'll be able to hear his wonderfully distinctive "Good morning, Americans!" – if not on air, then online.

The Internet that was

The Internet may not be as old as Paul Harvey – heck, there are countries that aren't as old as Paul Harvey – but given its immediate nature, there are huge swaths of what used to be the 'Net that are already lost to history.

The Internet Archive is aiming to preserve as much of the 'Net as possible.

And there is surprisingly large chunk of the 'Net's history preserved here.

The heart of the Internet Archive is the Wayback Machine, located on the site's home page. From here, you can view earlier incarnations of old web sites – all mirrored, or copied, versions of the sites as they appeared then.

Now, the 'Net was only opened to the public in the early '90s, and it was another year or so before commercial activity was permitted.

Still, a few years of the early Web seem to have been lost – the Wayback Machine only seems to extend to late 1996.

Even so, that makes for six and a half years of Internet history available there – from some of the early players (Netscape, Microsoft, IBM) to truly obscure sites like, well, like

What makes this site so fun is just exploring. The very earliest saved versions of Netscape's home page still contain the What's Cool category – you can lose an afternoon scrolling through there, reminding yourself of how the 'Net used to be.

In addition to the Way Back Machine is a growing software archive, and text and image archives. It is as impressive as it is addictive, and seems an important bit of work.