Things change fast on the Internet, and that’s regarded as one of the Web’s most attractive features. It’s easy to get the latest information – so much so, that TV news broadcasts are often behind the news these days, with the networking sites getting stories to the public long before the big broadcasters have checked out the facts.
But there’s a price to pay for this ever-updating stream of content. When you want to step back into the past and revisit old articles, they can be very elusive. Particularly if you’re a blogger or writer who needs to research information people have long forgotten, the difficulty in accessing original text from ten, fifteen or more years back can close down a really good idea. When you do your searches here in 2014, you don’t generally see what people were saying in the era you want to cover – you see what people are saying about that era now.
This is a problem, because retrospective articles are typically very similar, all focusing on the same points, and in some cases they’re inaccurate too. Specific distortions can come to be accepted as “the truth”, and because most writers on the Web just copy each other rather than investigating or researching for themselves, the inaccuracies perpetuate. To speak with real authority about a subject you need to revisit the era and form your own picture, but unless you’re in the know, that’s easier said than done.
For example, type Britney Spears year 2000 into Google and see what you get. What I’m getting is the expected headliner of a Wikipedia article (obviously created retrospectively), followed by the inevitable trio of YouTube videos (groan – everyone knows where YouTube is – stop spamming the results), and then a load of retrospectives. There isn’t one link on the first page of my Google results that leads to content actually posted in the year 2000, and it’s not just the subject of Britney Spears that suffers from this issue. Pretty much any major topic you want to research defaults to the same format on Google. Wikipedia, YouTube, retros.
So how d’you find what people were saying back in the day? Well, Google’s Advanced Search Tools make it a lot simpler than you may think. The key is not to tell Google you want information on Britney Spears year 2000, but to tell Google you want information on Britney Spears, and then limit the results to the year 2000 only.
Start by going onto Google and entering your search term. I’ve entered Britney Spears year 2000 in the first instance, but I’m going to change that in a moment. With the search results showing, I’ve clicked on Search tools (as highlighted yellow), then Any time (as highlighted cyan), and then Custom range (as highlighted magenta)…
This brings up the calendar you can see in the next capture below. Set the date range to the period you want to research, and click Go. I’m in England using google.co.uk, so the dates are in our British format, but elsewhere you should get the correct format for your region…
Straight away, the image below shows an enormous difference in the results. There’s nothing from Wikipedia or YouTube, and we’re now sifting through stuff that, in general, was posted during our target era…
But there’s one more modification I’m going to make, and that’s to remove the year 2000 suffix from the search term so it just reads Britney Spears. This changes the results yet again, to something in keeping with what you’d have seen had you Googled Britney nearly a decade and a half ago…
The quality of the results will of course vary, and because the Web wasn’t anything like as well developed in the ‘nineties or early ‘noughties as it is today, there won’t be the volume of matter we’re used to having at our disposal here in 2014.
Also, because some sites over the years have rolled back the publish dates on their posts (possibly in an attempt to gain an SEO advantage), or completely rewritten posts within the original Web page, not every result you’ll see will have been genuinely written during your target period. But the majority of the info should be from the time you specify, and this method is certainly a lot better than trying to weed out old matter from today’s results.
Because of the way updated pages tend to stay more relevant (and because sites that update will probably have ongoing SEO strategies), you may find the first page of results on Google contains more updated matter than you’d ideally want. Therefore, you might want to pay more attention to pages two and three than you would with a standard, current search.
You should also take into account that just because an article is old, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right. It’s worth cross referencing what you find just in case. But often, the misconceptions themselves can make a great read… “This is what people thought then – this is what we know now.” It’s much more interesting than just trotting out the same, tired facts which have been spun into oblivion.
It’s worth noting that if your date range finishes before April 2008, you won’t see any results in Google Images. But this exercise is not really about finding old pictures – that’s never been any problem using the default search process.
I’ve been able to unearth some real gems of info from times past using this technique, and I’ve been proud of the articles it’s enabled me to write. If you’re always saying something new, people do take a real interest, and if you recognise that nothing new is ever really new – only long forgotten – you can keep that supply of fascinating revelations coming pretty much in perpetuity.