Knowing infrastructure: Critically engaging the Wayback Machine as source for STS research

Jessica Ogden, Ed Summers, Shawn Walker

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Abstractpeer-review


From documenting human rights abuses to studying online advertising, web archives are increasingly positioned as critical resources for a broad range of scholarly Internet research agendas. And yet, web archives as research infrastructures remain relatively understudied. In this paper we reflect on the motivations and methodological challenges of investigating the World’s largest web archive, the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine (IAWM). Using a mixed methods approach, we report on a pilot project centred around documenting the inner-workings of ‘Save Page Now’ (SPN) - an Internet Archive tool that allows users to initiate the creation and storage of ‘snapshots’ of web resources. By improving our understanding of SPN and its role in shaping the IAWM, this work both reveals how the public tool is being used to ‘save the Web’ and highlights the challenges of operationalising a study of the dynamic sociotechnical processes supporting this information infrastructure. Inspired by existing STS approaches, the paper charts our development of methodological interventions to support an interdisciplinary investigation of SPN, including: ethnographic methods, ‘experimental blackbox tactics’, ‘speculative data modelling’ and documentary research. We discuss the opportunities and limitations of our methodology when interfacing with issues associated with temporality, scale, visibility and access, as well as critically engage with our own positionality in the research process (in terms of expertise and access). We conclude with reflections on the implications of STS approaches for ‘knowing infrastructure’, where the use of information infrastructures is unavoidably intertwined with our ability to study the situated and material arrangements of their creation.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2020
EventEASST/4S - Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and Agency of STS in Emerging Worlds - Prague, Czech Republic
Duration: 18 Aug 202021 Aug 2020


ConferenceEASST/4S - Locating and Timing Matters
Abbreviated titleEASST/42 2020
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Knowing infrastructure: Critically engaging the Wayback Machine as source for STS research'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this