I have had a couple of experiences recently which have made me wonder whether the mathematics community should try to establish and maintain something like the Wayback Machine, but specifically focused on mathematics.

In a paper that I wrote back in 1999, I cited a webpage with the title "Is elementary?" and provided the following URL:

http://www.apmaths.uwo.ca/~rcorless/AM563/NOTES/Nov_23_95/Nov_23_95.html

As you might guess, that URL is no longer functioning. I tried the Wayback Machine and I was lucky that it had indeed archived a copy of the relevant part of the page. Unfortunately, crucial parts of the page were not preserved; the original page used LaTeX2HTML, whose results were not satisfactorily archived.

The above example is not so important from a mathematical point of view because there is now a much better reference available for the mathematical fact in question, but it is a good illustration of the sort of thing I am concerned about—there's a considerable amount of material on the web that is of mathematical value but that is disappearing because it is not being formally published or archived.

My second example is more (ahem) consequential, and is something that the mathematical community might be able to do something about if we act now. For years there has been a useful web resource at Purdue for researching Consequences of the Axiom of Choice. Unfortunately, the page is no longer functioning, as you will quickly discover if you try submitting a form number. The URLs have changed. I suspect that Purdue redesigned its website at some point, changing the URLs, and that since Herman Rubin died a couple of years ago, there is now nobody responsible for maintaining the Axiom of Choice page. I tried emailing a couple of random people in the Purdue mathematics department to find out if something could be done to revive the page, but have received no response.

The ideal solution for the Axiom of Choice page may be for some researchers with an active interest in the area to create a wiki, whose survival will not depend on the survival of a single person. That is the route that the OEIS took and it seems to have worked out well. One would like to have not just a snapshot of the contents frozen at a single point in time, but a dynamic resource that is continually updated. Failing that, though, a snapshot would be better than nothing. However, according to my understanding, the Wayback Machine is not well designed for something like this where you're supposed to access the content by querying a form.

These two examples are of course only the tip of an iceberg. Scattered across the Internet are all kinds of lecture notes, computer code, databases, blog posts, etc., that are of long-term mathematical interest but that are at risk of disappearing when people retire or die. Even something like MathOverflow should perhaps be archived from time to time in some independent location in case something goes awry with the corporation in charge of it.

Would it be feasible to set up something like the Wayback Machine but specifically targeted at mathematics, so that we could ensure higher quality preservation than the actual Wayback Machine is able to provide? If so, which organizations are best equipped to create and maintain such a resource?

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