Mr. Peabody’s WABAC vs. Internet Archive’s Real-Life Time-Travel Machine, the Wayback

Mr. Peabody’s WABAC vs. Internet Archive’s Real-Life Time-Travel Machine, the Wayback

Mar 06, 2014

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

DreamWorks Animation’s Mr. Peabody & Sherman is about a genius dog and his adopted son who travel back in time at their leisure using their own personal time machine, the WABAC. Sounds like pure nonsense, right? Well, not entirely. There actually is a WABAC out there -- it just isn’t a flying red orb that’ll plop you down in ancient Egypt or right alongside the real-life Leonardo Da Vinci.

Mr. Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell) likes to use his WABAC machine to teach Sherman (Max Charles) about history by physically transporting him to some of the most well-known historic events like the Trojan War, a Marie Antoinette-hosted party and more.  The real-life WABAC is the Wayback Machine and it actually got its name from the fictional device featured in Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s portion of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

The Wayback applies a similar concept to the WABAC, but instead it approaches it in a totally digital manner. The Wayback allows users to go back in time (all the way back to 1996 in some cases) and view older versions of websites. Did you frequent a site back in the late '90s that no longer exists? Thanks to the Wayback, you might still be able to access a snapshot of it and enjoy a favorite pastime. Did you update your own website and then come to realize you preferred an older design? The source code could still be available via the Wayback!

The Wayback Machine Homepage



Before delving into the finer details, here’s some terminology worth knowing …

Cache: A component that transparently stores data so that future requests for that data can be served faster.
Crawlers: Internet bots that systemically browse the World Wide Web, typically for the purpose of Web indexing.
Internet Archive: A nonprofit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge."

This whole venture began back in 1996 when software was developed to “crawl” the World Wide Web and then download all the publically available pages. However, there are loads of sites out there with publishers who’d rather not have their material stored away in a cache so in order to bypass inconsistencies, the Internet Archive developed a subscription service called to give site creators the opportunity to opt-in for these digital archives.

Even in its early stages, information was already pouring in. For the first five years, this material was actually being stored on digital tape, which meant that the only people who could access to it had to do so in the flesh. Eventually, snapshots were made available online, but that only happened at least six months after the website had been processed and it wasn’t even a guarantee that all of the material ingested got the snapshot treatment either.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the Internet Archive took a major step forward, giving the technology a brand new interface and improved index of all the content recorded so that the public could start to sort through it. This database currently consists of 397 billion URLs, totaling up to five petabytes of data, giving you the ability to check out previous versions of an enormous amount of websites. 



In Europe, the Wayback Machine does breach copyright laws, so if publishers want their material taken down, the folks at Internet Archives must comply. In the United States, however, there have been some discrepancies.

In 2002, Internet Archives took down all pages that criticized Scientology at the insistence of lawyers from the Church of Scientology. Then there was the case of Suzanne Shell in 2005. She sued Internet Archives $100,000 for the five years it spent archiving her website using the Wayback Machine. Ultimately, the parties settled with the Internet Archives stating, “Internet Archive has no interest in including materials in the Wayback Machine of persons who do not wish to have their Web content archived. We recognize that Ms. Shell has a valid and enforceable copyright in her website and we regret that the inclusion of her website in the Wayback Machine resulted in this litigation.”

It is also possible for a person to use Wayback Machine results as evidence in court as long as other requirements are met. In 2004, EchoStar wanted to use Wayback Machine-produced material to prove certain information was posted on a Polish public broadcaster’s website. That broadcaster attempted to quash the material as hearsay, but that motion was denied. However, when the trial went to court, that judge did ultimately side with the broadcaster, deeming the Wayback evidence inadmissible.

The Wayback Machine vs. The WABAC

Clearly the real Wayback Machine and the fictional WABAC are two entirely different things. It’d be a blast to hop on the Mr. Peabody-piloted craft and zip off to any past event your heart desires - as long as you’re not already in existence and don’t threaten to destroy the space-time continuum – but the Wayback Machine absolutely has its uses as well and you don’t even have to leave your desk to poke around it. Click here to give it a try for yourself.

(Information via Wikipedia.)

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