For the London Free Press – November 25, 2013 – Read this at lfpress.com
We have all seen the “404 Not Found” or “Page does not exist” error response when we click on a broken Internet link. Though the Internet is a dynamic and constantly evolving medium for creating and sharing information, it can lack permanence.
“Link rot” describes hyperlinks that direct users to web pages or other sources that have since been moved or become permanently unavailable. This often occurs with news-related links where stories are moved around or deleted to make room for new ones.
The content you linked to may still exist but simply has a new address. Link rot can also occur when a website is reorganized or the domain has been changed without the creation of redirects.
Whether you’re an academic or amateur blogger, link rot undermines the professionalism, quality and relevance of your content. When citing information, you want to ensure the information you link to is accessible for future users. However web pages you’ve linked to can easily be changed, moved or deleted at any time making your content immediately less relevant because the information can’t be verified or the primary source can’t be referred to.
Link rot also poses an obstacle for those conducting research. When a link is dead or broken, it’s analogous to someone trying to perform research at a library but finding footnotes in the books have been ripped out.
Recognizing the problems caused by link rot, services such as Internet Archive and Google are archiving Internet documents by effectively taking snapshots of webpages for future access. However, these services are limited in that content chosen for archive is random and cannot be initiated by authors, editors or publishers seeking a specific reference.
Given the pervasive threat link rot poses to academics, a handful of “on-demand” archiving consortiums have surfaced that allow scholarly authors, editors and publishers to create links that “will never break.” This is achieved by submitting the URL to the service that then archives the material on the page as a user would view it on that same day and then sending a new URL that a future reader can click to be directed to both the original web source (that may have since changed) and the archived version.
One such service is Perma CC managed by universities, libraries and the Internet Archive.
Another is WebCite, a non-profit consortium supported by publishers, editors and donations. Since its launch in 1997, more than 200 academic journals have relied on Webcite to create “stable” links. WebCite is seeking crowdfunding on fundrazr.com to continue archiving new material past 2013.
Without archiving services, information online could easily be lost to future generations.