There are times when you can’t find something that you know was available online in the past. In cases like this, dead websites are an often overlooked research tool. In addition to being fun to look at, many of them contain functioning links to PDFs, images, and other files that are still relevant today.
A “dead” website can be different things. It may be a website that existed at one point, but is no longer available. Think of George Bush’s website when he was Governor of Texas (1995-2000). He had one, but you wouldn’t be able to find it today by Googling.
Dead websites can also be older versions of currently existing websites. Web design has come a long way in the last twenty years, and organizations and businesses often have many prior versions of their site. Just check out what some of today’s biggest websites looked like when they first launched.
The Internet Archive
If you’re trying to find a dead website, your best bet is to check the Internet Archive. Since the late 1990’s, the Internet Archive has been capturing websites at various intervals, creating a virtual replica of the Internet at different time periods.
I made a reference to Governor George Bush’s website earlier, and I was able to find his site by searching for the URL: http://www.governor.state.tx.us. What comes up is a calendar that lets you select the specific capture date you want to visit.
I selected a capture from February 2, 1999, since I know that fell within the period he was Governor. Here’s what his homepage looked like on that date:
If you click on the State Budget Proposal link in What’s New, it takes you to the following page.
From here, if you click on any of the links, many of them will take you to the actual PDF (not all links work, but nothing is perfect). If you look at other captures taken at different dates, you may be able to access other reports that were at one point linked.
All this can be useful to the researcher who’s been tasked with finding an old press release or an old task force report that doesn’t show up in Google. It’s not guaranteed that it will be in the Internet Archive, but it’s worth taking a look.
Cover image by Wikimedia Commons user Nikodem Nijaki.