The Internet Archive, the non-profit responsible for the online archive called the Wayback Machine, has a grim message about the potential future of the internet at it celebrates its own 25th anniversary.
The Wayback Machine is an invaluable resource for anyone looking for a snapshot of web pages that may have been edited over time for various reasons.
The project has archived some 588 billion web pages over a quarter of a century – as well as ancient computer games – and it now wants people to imagine what the internet will look like in 25 years time with what it is calling the Wayforward Machine.
The Internet Archive set out a dark future timeline that sees end-to-end encryption banned, big tech firms merging to become even more powerful and information is increasingly hidden behind corporate defences.
Using the Wayforward Machine overlays the site you search for with some ideas about what that future might look like. "Try out our Wayforward Machine to experience a world where access to knowledge is under siege," it says. In practice that means overlaying the sites you visit with warnings about restricted information and firewalls in a future where data is tightly controlled by the few and privacy is just a memory.
The Internet Archive was founded in October 1996 by Brewster Kahle, a computer scientist, librarian, and intellectual property activist.
"As the Internet Archive turns 25, we invite you on a journey from way back to way forward, through the pivotal moments when knowledge became more accessible for all," the Internet Archive said in a statement.
In 1996, a year before Google search launched, Kahle envisioned building a "Library for Everything".
He reflected on his goals recently. "The goal of the Internet Archive is to create a permanent memory for the Web that can be leveraged to make a new Global Mind. To find patterns in the data over time that would provide us with new insights, well beyond what you could do with a search engine. To be not only a historical reference but a living part of the pulse of the Internet," he wrote in a note celebrating the Internet Archive's 25th anniversary.
But he reckons the next 25 years of the web is at risk of becoming dominated by a few in a world where we lose the ability to trust online resources.
"Will this be our medium or will it be theirs? Will it be for a small controlling set of organizations or will it be a common good, a public resource?" he wrote.
"So many of us trust the Web to find recipes, how to repair your lawnmower, where to buy new shoes, who to date. Trust is perhaps the most valuable asset we have, and squandering that trust will be a global disaster."