This week, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University announced the release of Amber, a free software tool for websites and blogs that preserves content and prevents broken links. When installed on a blog or website, Amber can take a snapshot of the content of every linked page, ensuring that even if those pages are interfered with or blocked, the original content will be available.
“The Web’s decentralization is one of its strongest features,” said Jonathan Zittrain, Faculty Chair of the Berkman Center and George Bemis Professor of International Law at Harvard Law School. “But it also means that attempting to follow a link might not work for any number of reasons. Amber harnesses the distributed resources of the Web to safeguard it. By allowing a form of mutual assistance among Web sites, we can together ensure that information placed online can remain there, even amidst denial of service attacks or broad-based attempts at censorship.”
The release of Amber builds on an earlier proposal from Zittrain and Sir Tim Berners-Lee for a “mutual aid treaty for the Internet” that would enable operators of websites to easily bolster the robustness of the entire web. It also aims to mitigate risks associated with increasing centralization of online content. Increasingly fewer entities host information online, creating choke points that can restrict access to web content. Amber addresses this by enabling the storage of snapshots via multiple archiving services, such as the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and Perma.cc.
Amber is useful for any organization or individual that has an interest in preserving the content to which their website links. In addition to news outlets, fact-checking organizations, journalists, researchers, and independent bloggers, human rights curators and political activists could also benefit from using Amber to preserve web links. The launch is the result of a multi-year research effort funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of State.
“We hope supporters of free expression may use Amber to rebroadcast web content in a manner that aids against targeted censorship of the original web source,” said Geneve Campbell, Amber’s technical project manager. “The more routes we provide to information, the more all people can freely share that information, even in the face of filtering or blockages.”
Amber is one of a suite of initiatives of the Berkman Center focused on preserving access to information. Other projects include Internet Monitor, which aims to evaluate, describe, and summarize the means, mechanisms, and extent of Internet content controls and Internet activity around the world; Lumen, an independent research project collecting and analyzing requests for removal of online content; and Herdict, a tool that collects and disseminates real-time, crowdsourced information about Internet filtering, denial of service attacks, and other blockages. It also extends the mission of Perma.cc, a project of the Library Innovation Lab at the Harvard Law School Library. Perma.cc is a service that helps scholars, courts and others create web citation links that will never break.
Amber is now available for sites that run on WordPress.org or Drupal. Find out more and download the plugin at amberlink.org.