You're happily trolling the Web, visiting your favorite sites. You type in www.meerkatfanatic.com, and a message pops up: "404 — Page not found." Or a cheesy ad from a hosting service. Huh? What gives? It was there yesterday. Where did it go?
In a world where the average life span of a Web page is just 77 days, sites often just vanish. Their owners either lose interest or stop paying to maintain them — and the host providers unceremoniously yank them off the Net. It's that simple.
Can you ever find them again? Sometimes — thanks to a half-dozen archive services. The Internet Archive (www.archive.org), for one, saves 35 million sites every two months, totaling billions of pages. Want to flash back to justballs.com, a dotcom purveyor of . . . just balls that went belly up in 2002? Plug it into the Archive's Wayback Machine, and presto! Your favorite oldies, resurrected. It's a matter of historic interest, says the Archive's Michele Kimpton: "As time goes on, people will want to save and access the Internet, and the content will become more valuable."
A version of this article appeared in the August 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.