ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Springtime of Internet Archive V2.0 —

Here’s what Internet Archive did really well for a decade and a half: provide old webpages, and give fast and simple access to millions of items ranging across all kinds of media.

Here’s what it did not do well: change the website.

For years and years, the site looked very much the same. You can verify this, well, on the Internet Archive’s wayback machine itself. Here’s the website in 2004. Here it is in 2014, ten years later. (Go back earlier and you realize it’s different looking only to reflect the fact that people didn’t have monitors that went over 1024×768.)

Now, if you’re going to have to choose between “be pretty and follow website trends” and “save the goddamned data”, I think the choice made is pretty obvious, and that’s what the site did. And did well! You can look at data uploaded long before Flickr, before Youtube, before Facebook.

But believe me, it always galled me when people would link to things at the Archive, amazing and wonderful things, and they felt they had to apologize for the look of the place. The look, and more importantly the back-end structure of the presentation of the look, was locked in the past. Let me rush to say that gazillions of patches and upgrades were applied to the site over the years by the very talented development staff, but there hadn’t been a bottom-up redesign, one intended to reflect the modern realm of technology and information.

In 2014, that changed (really, it started in 2013), and the redesign of what’s called “Version 2” or “Beta” became available to the masses.

Now it’s generally available. In some places, it’s the default.

Now I’m going to tell you to use it all the time.


For a while, I’d swap between Version 1 and Version 2 as my needs were required. As of this year I stopped using Version 1 entirely.

The story of creating and designing V2 is not mine to tell. Much more involved and talented people were responsible for this, and I’m sure they’ll tell the tale as time permits.

No, I’m just going to tell you, again, to use it all the time.

Getting to it is easy – it either offers a lot of people the chance to “Try the Beta”, or you just visit and it will swap you into the new interface. (You can “exit” it in the upper right, if it’s all too much for you.)

What hits you, first, is how much more visual it is. Yes, there’s settings to go back to a “list” mode, and there’s places where there’s “just” some files so you don’t get pretty previews or informative screens. But for movies, music, software… you can see, in large tiles, what’s going down in a collection. And individual items, be they newspapers or television, have great preview frames that tell you instantly what’s down there.

Going over to the MS-DOS Games Software Collection, for example, you are literally beset upon by the wild colors and names of the MS-DOS era. Tapping a picture, you find yourself looking at a preview of the program, and a clear button to start the fun. It’s really easy.

Searches are more robust and allow clicking around to what you’re looking for. The site is responsive, allowing you to move to different widths (and platforms) and have the site adjust to the aspects of your browser. The Archive now knows what social media is. And the thing is…. it’s not done.

It’s not done by a long shot. And that’s the real magic, for me, knowing the work that went in to make this the case.

You see, the back-end was completely rewritten from the ground up while not touching the data that it’s presenting. The whole codebase shot up into the present day. And with all that time and innovation has come the ability for new features and modifications to arrive with 24 hour turnaround, instead of a nightmareish ballet of negotiating legacy code. It’s a new dawn.

I have really had a great time working at the Archive for the years I’ve been there (yes, it’s been years now!) and with this newest interface, things are just a solid joy to work with. Sure, it’s meant a lot more work to make sure everything has good previews and that descriptions are everywhere, but that’s the kind of work that I love doing, so things got nice indeed.

I’ve gushed enough. V2 is the future. And the future is rosy indeed.


Categorised as: Internet Archive

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  1. shicky256 says:

    As an owner of a crappy, 10-year-old laptop, I hope that there will always be an option to switch back to the old site.

  2. mylife4iron says:

    Seconded, and I’m running a recent Alienware Area 51 with Windows 8.1. The new site is graphically beautiful and will appeal to the majority of users who are used to touchscreens with big icons. I am not a visual person and find it a lot harder to use. It takes me much longer to find things. Is there a place where we can make our voices heard? (And yes, I use desktop, not metro)

  3. Is there a way to use the whole width of the screen while browsing for things? The amount of wasted space on the side seems excessive even for a touch-orientated interface?