Here's Where Awesome Free Shit Lives on the Internet

By Wesley Fenlon

Free stuff is rad. Everyone's gotten lost on Wikipedia or TVTropes a time or two, but here are a few awesome resources that aren't quite as obvious.

Do your eyes light up when you hear the word free? Will you bend over backwards to use free software just to avoid paying a couple bucks for a better app? Have you been known to go to Subway at 9 a.m. for a free breakfast even though you don't like Subway? Then prepare to lose countless hours plumbing the depths of these Internet treasure troves of media and culture. For example: you probably knew Archive.org was full of terabytes upon terabytes of information (actually, it's more than 3 petabytes), but did you know it hosted radio broadcasts of The Shadow from the 1930s featuring a 22 year-old Orson Welles? Or over a dozen Felix the cat cartoons dating back to the 1920s?

Archive.org and Project Gutenberg, which hosts more than 100,000 ebooks, are just two awesome resources for amazing free content on the web. For your enjoyment (and our own), we've put together a list of some of the best, including content to look for and tips on finding exactly what you're looking for.

The Internet Archive WayBack Machine

Archive.org doesn't have everything, but it's working its way there. The archive hosts moving images (films, animations, stock footage and advertising), audio (live music and radio), text (including Project Gutenberg), and even software (remember Tucows?). Searching through the archive can be a bit difficult, but the rewards are there waiting to be found. Even if you're not a fan of old movies like Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday, you can find tons of modern media in the Live Music Archive.

Searching tips: Use the archive's Advanced Search to narrow your results by title, description, age, or other qualifiers. With the basic search, weed out non-relevant results by using quotation marks around your search terms.

Cool Content to look out for:

Project Gutenberg

The go-to source for classic literature, Project Gutenberg has digitized more than 100,000 books from classics like The Kama Sutra to Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. In addition to its list of ebooks, the Project also hosts audio books!

Searching tips: Project Gutenberg's search page makes it easy to search by author, title, subject, etc.

Cool Content to look out for:

Library of Congress

We can get lost for hours looking at old movie posters and propaganda artwork from the Cold War and World War II. If you're the same, the Library of Congress' Prints & Photographs Catalog is your jackpot. The variety of vintage artwork--scanned in high resolution, no less--ranges from Ansel Adams to 19th century baseball cards to World War I posters.Search tips: Just browse by category. If you like old artwork, you'll find something fascinating within seconds.

Cool content to look out for:

Open Library

The Open Library strives to catalog every book ever published with its own wiki page. More importantly, the site hosts nearly 1 million ebooks downloadable for free. It's an offshoot of the Internet Archive project--no wonder it rocks. While it sounds like the Open Library is home to far more books than Project Gutenberg, they're not all free to just anyone--items that show up with a lock can only be downloaded with a key from the Library of Congress. They're there for preservation, essentially.

Search tips: Check the "show only ebooks" option to narrow your search.

Cool Content to look out for:

  • Look for books that say Read, not Borrow. These have downloadable ebooks/PDFs. Since Project Gutenberg and the Open Library are both associated with Archive.org, you'll see a lot of overlap in public domain books available on all three sites.

National Archives Experience

The United States' National Archive is a curated presentation of photographs, art and documents laid out in a jazzy Flash interface. The cool thing is everything's tagged and interlinked with related content, which helps to replicate the aimless Wikipedia wandering that has consumed us all at one point or another. A feature called Pathways further builds on that concept with a quest system for hunting down related records based on clues. The selection of Pathways is unfortunately small, but it's a cool feature nonetheless.

Search tips: Pull up the search box and switch over to the Tags tab to see a list of tags in alphabetical order.

Cool Content to look out for:

  • Can you solve Lincoln's challenge?

And Beyond!

One last favorite: a collection of nearly 100 Soviet science magazine covers from the 1960s. Every last one is strikingly imaginative and way cooler than today's publications. The scans are hi-res, too--perfect for prints. It's simply a Russian picture website, but we can definitely declare this one awesome resource for free stuff.

Now it's you turn: share your favorite treasure troves of awesome stuff (or pick out some examples from the resources we've laid out).