The End of an Era at Google: One of Its Oldest Features Officially Being Discontinued

Written by Henrik Rothen

Feb.09 - 2024 10:33 AM CET

Photo: PixieMe / Shutterstock.com
Photo: PixieMe / Shutterstock.com
One of Its Oldest Features Officially Being Discontinued.

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Twenty-five years ago, the Internet was a completely different place, a patchwork of makeshift solutions. Sometimes typing a URL would bring up a website, while other times nothing happened, and URLs simply didn't work. Google, then just a startup with an odd name, would soon offer a solution. The company added "cache" links to its search results, displaying a previously stored version of web pages. Now, as the internet has matured and Google has become one of the most powerful conglomerates in history, the cache link is officially a thing of the past.

The change, first spotted by Search Engine Land, was just confirmed by Danny Sullivan, Google's Public Liaison for Search, the company's intermediary for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) professionals.

"Yes, it has been removed. I know, it's sad. I'm sad too," Sullivan wrote on Friday.

"It was one of our oldest features. But it was meant to help people access pages when, back then, you often couldn't be sure the page would load. These days things have improved a lot. So, it was decided to retire it."

The nostalgia for a button that many people probably never heard of might seem absurd, but Google's cache function was a fundamental solution to one of the web's earliest problems. As the web turned into a more stable infrastructure, cache memory was largely abandoned by regular users, but it remained a useful tool.

SEO workers used it to monitor changes made by competitors. Journalists and researchers checked cache memories to follow the historical archive. Some experienced internet users knew cache memory was a way to bypass paywalls or access websites blocked in specific regions.

Photo: Screenshot

However, Google's cache links have been in a precarious position for some time. Previously, there was a cache button next to the blue links on Google.com, but the company moved the feature to the "About this result" menu, where it remained out of sight. As The Verge reported, a Google engineer tweeted in 2021 that cache memory is "basically an unmaintained legacy feature." For now, you can still view Google's cache by typing "cache:" before the URL, but even this is soon to stop working.

There is another solution, but it stands on shaky ground. The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine maintains historical copies of web pages as a public service, but the organization is in a constant battle to remain financially viable. Google's Sullivan floated the idea of a collaboration with the Internet Archive, though it's far from becoming an official plan.

"Personally, I hope maybe we could add links to @internetarchive, from where we had the cache link before, within 'About this result'. It's an incredible resource," Sullivan tweeted. "No promise. We need to talk to them, see how it could work — it involves people beyond me."

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