Why the Internet Archive sucks & what we can do about it.

The Internet Archive is a digital hero with the mission of creating universal access to all knowledge. It is the home of well over 10 petabytes in cultural material (yeah that’s 1 million gigabytes), including websites, music, moving images, and nearly three million public-domain books.

The Internet Archive is truly the library of the web. But unlike a quiet librarian, it is a loud activist for a free and open Internet. The members of the organization are fearless advocates for the decentralization of digital content. Just listen to this fire breathing Alinskyite. Would you want to mentally mess with him?

To see more articles like this sign up for Designed Thought >

The Internet Archive is much more than a group of passionate info-architects. It is a bona fide 501(c)(3) non-profit with an annual budget of $10 million, which comes from partnerships, grants, and donations. It is even considered a library in the state of California!

Despite the great things that Internet Archive has done for mankind, it still really sucks. The reason can be boiled down to one thing: poor user experience.

When a user lands on the home page they are confronted with hundreds of links. There is very little hierarchy to denote a user pathway. The design aesthetic looks like something strait out of the 1990’s. Most of the links are the standard blue color that becomes underlined when you hover over it. Moreover, it is not accommodating to mobile devices, being that there is no mobile version and it’s not responsive (only Apple can get away with that shit!).

As a user… When I navigate to the “audio” landing page I am confronted with even more arbitrary #2D00CC a:hover{ display: underline;} links. I finally see that there is a search bar at the top of the page. I browse for Anthem by Ayn Rand and find my way to the page that houses the audio book. I feel like I just dodged Rubik’s cube.

The great irony of the Internet Archive is that it holds the greatest wealth of knowledge on the Internet, but it is buried under terrible user experience. No matter how great the content is, if I have to deeply think to understand how to find it I am going to leave.

The biggest obstacle for re-designing the site to accommodate a great user experience is the sheer number of resources it holds. I believe this problem could begin to be solved by re-designing the home page. The Internet Archive could then do a series of A/B test to determine what pieces work the best, and then apply what’s working throughout the site. It would be the first step to the massive overhaul.

To see more articles like this sign up for Designed Thought >

Clip to Evernote
  • Nitpicker

    It’s actually 10 million gigabytes, but who’s counting? :)

  • kris

    oh wow. something free isn’t designed as well as a commercial product. this is news.

    • tumma

      So anything that’s free must therefore be absolutely horrible and poorly designed? The site has a ton of users and should have a modern site to support them.

  • TerraHertz

    You know what? I *like* it that the IA is old fashioned, uses traditional links, doesn’t have any flashy graphic design on the page, and just stays the same.
    The top line menu “Web Video Text Audio Projects (etc)” is fine by me too.
    Your desire to have ‘access without thinking’ to a vast store of knowledge, is comically ironic.


    • Wapples

      Yes, but you’re the kind of internet user that signs their post when Disqus shows your username at the top anyway. The site needs a redesign. Not a terrible, minimalist single-button-in-your-face thing, but it definitely needs a redesign. How IS the 90s, anyway, because you seem to be stuck there.