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Archive Stumbler

This post first appeared in similar form on Cohost. I've updated it a bit to reflect the state of the app at the end of the day I launched it.

I like to browse the Internet Archive late at night. A lot of the internet is really boring now but the Archive is super refreshing but it lacks a key discovery feature: serendipity.

the collection listing sort bar, featuring the ability to sort by: views, title, date reviewed, creator

These are the only options you have in how you sort a collection when viewing it, so if you're faced with, say, the full archive of Western Hills Access Television because you want to know what was going on in Western Maine 1-4 years ago, the only way to embrace any kind of serendipity is to kinda scroll for a little while while unfocusing your eyes and then click somewhere on the page. Very unsatisfying!

Luckily the Archive can return data on a few of its main endpoints in JSON format, so you can chain a few HTTP calls together and make it possible to make a computer use a PRNG to pick for you. So I did!

screenshot of the interface for Archive Stumbler

Archive Stumbler will accept any Internet Archive collection URL and provide a hyperlink that you can click on (or, if you're settling in for some real crate digging, ctrl-click a bunch to open in new tabs) to send you to a random item in that collection. If you don't know where to start, there's a button you can click that'll pre-fill the field with some sample collections.

Hope you enjoy! It's pretty slapdash, so there are definitely some default error messages showing stack traces and whatnot. I may have the energy to investigate how to skip over non-working entries and retry, but in the meantime if you keep refreshing the tab it'll keep trying again with the same collection.

One enhancement I added, if you saw the site before ~2pm PDT on Wednesday, is encoding the value of the URL input box into the page URL so that you can make reusable browser bookmarks or share links with other people that will pre-fill with a specific collection.