The following is a guest post by Cliff Hight, University Archivist, Kansas State University Libraries.
The Memento for Chrome extension allows users of Google’s web browser, Chrome, to see previous versions web pages. I enjoyed testing the tool and seeing how certain sites have changed over the years. By the way, do any of you remember how Yahoo! looked in 1996? With a few clicks of a mouse, you can now.
To give you a flavor of how it works, I’ll walk you through (with pictures!) my experience.
1) After installing the extension, I used my institution’s home page as a test bed.
2) I clicked on the clock to the right of the browser’s address bar and set the web time to which I wanted to travel—arbitrarily selected as April 14, 2010.
3) I opened the context menu by right-clicking (or control-click for Mac users) on the page, selecting “Memento Time Travel,” and clicking the “Get near Wed, 14 Apr 2010 18:54:30 GMT” option.
4) Voila! A view of how the Kansas State University Libraries website looked in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine on March 6, 2009.
You might have noticed that the date I was seeking and the date of the archived site were not the same. As it turns out, the developers note on their page that the extension has two limitations: it cannot “obtain a prior version of a page when none have [sic] been archived and time travel into the future.” Because my institution’s site was not captured in the Wayback Machine on April 14, 2010, there was nothing from that date to show. Instead, the tool went with the next oldest date, which happened to be March 6, 2009.
Additionally, you may have seen additional options on the context submenu. Selecting “Get near current time” sends you the most recently archived version of the page. The “Get at current time” option takes you to the live version of the page, and the “Got” line tells you which page you are currently seeing.
This extension basically uses various web archives, such as the Wayback Machine and the British Library Web Archive, to provide easy access to earlier versions of webpages. It also claims to provide archived pages of Wikipedia in all available languages. In my use of the tool, it was more convenient than going to the Wayback Machine every time I wanted to see older version of websites.
Like most technology products, there are some bugs. In my tests, there were a couple of times on different websites when I set a date, looked at the current version of the page, clicked to see the older version, and waited while nothing happened. To get it working again, I went back to the date box, changed the date by a day, and had success in seeing the older version. I’m not sure why it had those hiccups (and it would not surprise me if there was user error), but know as you begin to use the tool that there might be some kinks to work through.
The developers of Memento include the Prototyping Team of the Research Library of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Computer Science Department of Old Dominion University. Based on information on the Memento website, the extension began development in 2009 and its most recent update was in November 2013. On the plugin page, the developers state that “Memento for Chrome allows you to seamlessly navigate between the present web and the web of the past. It turns your browser into a web time travel machine that is activated by means of a Memento sub-menu that is available on right-click.” And, to learn more about the technical side of the project, you can see their Memento Guide and Request for Comments pages.
The Memento for Chrome extension is a helpful tool that allows users to easily peruse websites and see how they have changed through the years. I would recommend adding it to your toolbox as you seek to view the history of the web.