WEB101 – Official Thread: The Wayback Machine

Official Thread: The Wayback Machine
The Wayback Machine: a fascinating way of spending hours exploring how websites have changed over the years. The Wayback Machine is part of the Internet Archive which is an amazing repository serving the dual purpose of reminding us of just how permanent our writing on the web is whilst also hosting millions of other cultural artefacts, including some 9,453 Grateful Dead live recordings!

While investigating the archive, consider the following questions:

  1. How are the early web pages different from those you use today?
  2. What has made these changes possible?

MY RESPONSE:

I wanted to see when Google Australia was first appearing. According to the Way Back Machine, it was starting to appear in February of 2003. The first thing I noticed when it was loading was the Google logo – a non-interlaced image, and if you right-click on it to view it in another window, you get to see the chunk you clicked on, not the entire image. Ah, the good old days… LOL

The page was a lot busier, contained a lot more to read, but still had a pretty clean interface compared to some of the other sites that were around during that time. You could nominate to search the web, or pages from Australia. In between, I recall the Pages from Australia function disappeared from the web site, and I was forced to use Advanced Search syntax like site:gov.au in my search strings, for example. I have since noticed that Google is getting more and more sophisticated. I use Google every day at work – either to teach, or research, or help students/teachers with finding information in a more timely manner. So, I can state that with a certain amount of confidence.

For example, if you have a Google account (like Gmail, for instance), Google remembers what you look at and what you like and tend not to like. Of course, cookies are tracking your every move, but Google stores your preferences at all times – hence the existence of Google Analytics. If you try and fool Google, go to another device and NOT log in, it looks at your IP address, locates you, deduces you’re from Melbourne, Australia (in my case), and starts offering you the most popular choices first. The longer you stay on that device with that particular IP address, it makes more and more specific assumptions about you as a user. The problem with this is, the next user of that device may get advertising that said more about you than the next person’s tastes and preferences. But, where are those face recognition technologies and retinal scans I mentioned in another post? Not too far away, I suspect.

To cut a long story short, sites are much more sophisticated in tracking you today than back then. The HTML (v 1.0) was very stale and had limited choices for the web page designer than the current HTML v5. Javascript, XHTML, XML, CSS, etc. were not around yet, so web sites tended to look very drab and dull, or very annoying with little bouncing animated gifs and flashing, italic text everywhere you looked. Web sites’ loading time was longer – this was not only due to modems, but also to the heaviness of video and image files – they took AGES to watch, view or listen to. User experience, usability and the chunking of information into smaller, manageable bites was not at the forefront of designers’ consciousness yet either. The first to start really addressing these issues was a man by the name of Jakob Nielsen, who still blogs about these considerations today. (He may not have been the first, but he was in my world.)

All of the changes we see today have been brought about by advancing technologies, creativity, faster speeds, extra download allowances, updating of programming languages to accommodate new directions on the Web, usage statistics and information gathering, thinking of the Web as a profit-making resource, not solely as an information sharing one, as it was in the early days. I’m sure that marketing departments all over the world are analysing how we use the web constantly, and how they can make their product better and sell more, whether it be books, clothes, cars, in fact, anything you can purchase in some way or another. Even information is not free (something that Aaron Schwartz tried to change before he took his own life).

Ultimately, in answering the question of what has made these changes possible? We all have in some way or another. It could be us as consumers, or us as business owners, or us as information seekers, or us as recreational users. We contribute to these changes by simply using the Web for our own, individual or communal purposes.

TUTOR’S RESPONSE:

Hi Maha,

This is a great reflection on the unit material! You’ve made an important point about the ways that websites increasingly track us. While much of the material on the increasingly interactive nature of Web 2.0 focuses on how we share information and interact with sites, it’s also useful to remember that these sites also now interact with our browsing in more complex ways. It’s not just Google – the EFF has a good post about how Facebook tracks your browsing in order to target ads to you more effectively.

This leads to a more customised browsing experience, with search results, ads, and other content individually tailored. It also has important privacy implications. Are you comfortable that the benefits outweigh the potential downsides?

MY RESPONSE:

I don’t think it’s a matter of whether or not I am comfortable with the pros and cons of such tracking and targeted advertising. I think the digital divide has changed – the divide can now occur between those who are connected and those who are not. It’s not only about the divide between the more prosperous and the poorer communities, as originally proclaimed.

We have become complacent about such matters.

I recall when Google Street View first started. There were so many complaints from society, in general, about the violations of privacy – having a photograph of the front of your house up on Google Street View was like showing the world your private residence and the fact that anyone could see it scared a lot of people. Now, we don’t give it a second thought. It’s part of making our UX of Google Maps and finding an address easy and user-friendly. The word associations around such privacy violations have changed into more positive-sounding ones, we don’t even question them.

As for me, I am so connected, I am at a stage where I no longer care too much about the continuing violation of my privacy online. I am partly to blame for it, but if I am not connected, and do not agree to the Terms of Service that I must accept to use something, I am an outsider. I’d feel ostracised from the online communities I wish to partake of. I would see myself as disadvantaged in my work world as well. It is essential to, in most cases, ignore the downsides in order to be a part of the online world which I move in, around and through so often.

I would also like to add that I have two accounts on Facebook. I mostly use these to promote information for the people I work with who ARE on Facebook, or to share political ideology. i.e. GetUp!, petition signing for proposed government legislation that (I believe) should be stopped in the Senate.

So, the ads that are pushed to me in Facebook? Not much… mainly books to read (from bookshops), and two other categories – weight loss and clothes/make-up, as Facebook can’t make too many assumptions about me, other than I’m a female. Unfortunately, Facebook sends the latter two categories in advertising to a lot of users registered as a female. Of course, this also depends on what your female friends are sharing and talking about – then FB thinks if MY friends are talking about it, then I must be interested in it too.

All in all, I don’t like Facebook. It’s no longer as big a part of my world as it used to be. Definitely not that pertinent in my work as other sociel outlets. To be honest, it’s checked late at night, before I go to bed, to see what my friends have been up to, and to quickly check if there’s anything worth commenting on and/or sharing.

TUTOR’S RESPONSE:

Hi Maha,It sounds like you feel like it’s pretty much all or nothing – either you accept whatever tracking there is online, or you opt out completely. Do you use any steps to try to protect your privacy, such as browser extensions?

MY RESPONSE:

I do use steps to protect my privacy – I have extensions in all of the browsers I use (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and Midori). Things like Adblocker, HTTPS-Everywhere, Privacy Palette, RecX Security Analyser, Blog Security… to name a few. I don’t mind the pop-ups some of these extensions give me – I’d rather take a moment to accept or deny access to something than just stumble around the Web blindly.

I suppose that at the time of writing my previous posts, I was thinking about things from the other end… At work, we use tools such as Google Analytics, and other data mining types of software. It’s amazing what type of information can be gathered from visitors to our web site. So, I’m a little cynical about such matters. Not so much all or nothing as you described it, but becoming less and less within our control, so to speak.

I search for myself online every once in a while. I like to see what others could potentially see about me. I have never reached a stage of panic about the information that can be found about me if someone were to look for me. But, I try to remain mindful  of the information I put out there about myself and keep my fingers crossed that I will be dead and buried by the time that type of data is used to control us, rather than exist to enhance our online experiences.

Maha…  Smile

TUTOR’S RESPONSE:

Hi Maha,

It sounds like you take a very careful approach to your Web use, which is great! Adblock Plus and HTTPS everywhere are two extensions that I always install by default when setting up a new computer, or a new install of my operating system.

I check now and then to see what searches of my name turn up online, and I’ve had a few surprises over the years!

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About Maha @ Uni

Studying online, and want to keep a record of my progress and experiences...
This entry was posted in Early Web, Evolution of Online Search, Privacy, Targeted Advertising Online, Tracking, UX, Wayback Machine and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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