Are you familiar with the Internet Wayback Machine? It’s a service run by the Internet Archive project with the goal of backing up the entire web, and providing access to multiple generations of those backups. As of this writing, they have a database of over 240 billion web pages going back as far as 1996. I’ve used it many times when a site I’ve bookmarked goes away.

The Wayback Machine is the IA’s best-known service, but it’s actually only a portion of their overall mission, which is to build “a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts”. It’s a great research source, but it’s also a fabulous way to entertain yourself.

How do you like the idea of access to 1.2 million videos, 1.6 million audio recordings (including more than 100,000 live concert recordings), and 4.5 million books and other textual works? All there, all free, and all legal. Let’s browse around a bit, shall we?

The video collection includes shorts and full-length features, historical and modern. Remember “Manos: The Hands of Fate” from Mystery Science Theater 3000? Want to see the original without Joel and the ‘bots getting in the way? You can! Need a fix of the original Star Wars? The IA doesn’t have that, but it does have an hour-long remake done entirely in Lego stop motion animation. Not quite your speed? How about a treasure trove of Betty Boop? Felix the Cat? Or if TV is more your speed, how about classic shows including “What’s My Line”, “Queen for a Day” (widely regarded as one of the worst game shows ever made – worth watching just of the sheer horror value), and “Ozzie and Harriet”. There’s newer stuff too, especially if your tastes run to news – but I’m trying to focus on cheerful subjects this week, so let’s skip the news.

In my opinion, the Audio Archive has the most entertainment value. I mentioned the Live Music Archive earlier. Almost 6,000 groups are included; sure, you’ve probably never heard of most of them, but there are some well-known names too. Blues Traveler. Maroon5. Smashing Pumpkins. And, of course, the Grateful Dead. Oh, and let’s not forget Vinyl Soup. Wait, you’ve probably only heard of them if you hang out at the Soulshine Pizza Factory in Nashville. Not a bad ProgRock/Folk/Jam band. Worth a listen, certainly. Need some help in finding music to your tastes? Take a look at
Netlabels, a set of “virtual record labels”

Not in a music mood? How about some “Old-Time Radio“? I could run on for pages listing classic shows, but I’ll just throw out a semi-random sampling – all of these shows have dozens of episodes available; some have hundreds: “Dragnet”, “Gunsmoke”, “X Minus 1”, “The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”, “The Jack Benny Show”, “Bob and Ray”, “Duffy’s Tavern”, “The Spike Jones Show”.

Spike Jones too light-hearted for you? Want to get serious? There’s a collection of Audio Books and Poetry, one of “alternative independent radio news“, and a set of curated collections of interviews, conferences, and podcasts related to computers, science, and technology.

Oh, and speaking of computers, the IA also holds a Software Archive that includes shareware, freeware, game-related previews and promos, and documentation. My favorite part? The DEMU collection of DOS and early Windows games. Remember the days when a whole game would fit on a single floppy disk? Here’s one of my favorites to get you started: The Incredible Machine.

Finally, let’s not forget those books and text works. The core of the archive is the rather ambitious Open Library project which aims to, as they put it in their FAQ, “list every book — whether in-print or out-of-print, available at a bookstore or a library, scanned or typed in as text.” The OL works with WorldCat, (a shared catalog intended primarily for libraries) to provide links to library copies of books, as well as links to online booksellers. Books that are available in electronic format are also linked – many are freely available and may be downloaded or read online, many more can be “borrowed” (downloaded in a time-limited fashion).