Friday, July 2, 2021 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Link Rot

Mark Graham (via Hacker News):

As part of the Internet Archive’s aim to build a better Web, we have been working to make the Web more reliable — and are pleased to announce that 9 million formerly broken links on Wikipedia now work because they go to archived versions in the Wayback Machine.

Jonathan Zittrain:

It turns out that link rot and content drift are endemic to the web, which is both unsurprising and shockingly risky for a library that has “billions of books and no central filing system.” Imagine if libraries didn’t exist and there was only a “sharing economy” for physical books: People could register what books they happened to have at home, and then others who wanted them could visit and peruse them. It’s no surprise that such a system could fall out of date, with books no longer where they were advertised to be—especially if someone reported a book being in someone else’s home in 2015, and then an interested reader saw that 2015 report in 2021 and tried to visit the original home mentioned as holding it. That’s what we have right now on the web.

[…]

In 2010, Justice Samuel Alito wrote a concurring opinion in a case before the Supreme Court, and his opinion linked to a website as part of the explanation of his reasoning. Shortly after the opinion was released, anyone following the link wouldn’t see whatever it was Alito had in mind when writing the opinion.

[…]

We found that 50 percent of the links embedded in Court opinions since 1996, when the first hyperlink was used, no longer worked. And 75 percent of the links in the Harvard Law Review no longer worked.

People tend to overlook the decay of the modern web, when in fact these numbers are extraordinary—they represent a comprehensive breakdown in the chain of custody for facts.

Glenn Fleishman:

My first essay about the dangers of link rot appeared in Adobe Magazine in 1997. The link died and the location of the essay changed within a year or so. Now it’s entirely lost.

Previously:

This leads to a contempt for the past. Too much of what was created in the last fifty years is gone because no one took care to preserve it.

Since I run a bookmarking site for a living, I’ve done a little research on link rot myself. Bookmarks are different from regular URLs, because presumably anything you’ve bookmarked was once worth keeping. What I’ve learned is, about 5% of this disappears every year, at a pretty steady rate. A customer of mine just posted how 90% of what he saved in 1997 is gone. This is unfortunately typical.

We have heroic efforts like the Internet Archive to preserve stuff, but that’s like burning down houses and then cheering on the fire department when it comes to save what’s left inside. It’s no way to run a culture. We take better care of scrap paper than we do of the early Internet, because at least we look at scrap paper before we throw it away.

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