WTF is link rot?
This is the latest in a series of articles that explain, in plain English, new technology tools and platforms that are changing the face of digital media. See other entries here.
“Error 404” pages have become a common part of the Web experience. But while most people have shrugged off broken links as a necessary nuisance, some see them as a problem that threatens the ability for people to freely access information online.
Academia has taken note. Last week, Harvard’s Berkman Center released Amber, a WordPress and Drupal plugin designed to help websites keep linked content accessible by storing copies of Web pages. If a linked page goes down, Amber serves the cached alternative. Here’s a primer on link rot and why it’s a problem many see as worth fixing.
So what is link rot, exactly?
It’s not too complicated. Link rot is a somewhat dramatic name for broken links. It’s a vital topic for anyone concerned with the perseveration of content on the Web.
OK, so “404” errors. What causes them?
Blame technology, or more likely, human error. Link rot can happen when a site migrates to a new CMS or link structure, which can break links to old pages. Sometimes sites go offline completely, taking all of their links with them. The most common cause of link rot, though, is human intervention. Links break on the Web because sites take content down. BuzzFeed, to use a recent example, deleted thousands of posts in 2014 because they no longer reflected its updated editorial standards. That’s just one prominent example, but the problem is more widespread.
So why are academics so obsessed with this?
Academia, at its core, is built on citations. When building a case, lawyers and academics have to not only show their own work but be able to show and link to previously published work that supports their conclusions. But doing so is harder to do on the Web when websites are constantly changing and when it’s almost effortless to pull content down. It’s enough to make an academic long for print, where this problem doesn’t exist.
I still don’t get why this is an issue. It seems tiny. Give me some numbers.
It’s not a tiny problem at all. Wikipedia, for example, says that over a 130,000 its entries link to pages that are no longer there. Likewise, a 2013 Harvard study found that 49 percent of the hyperlinks in Supreme Court decisions don’t work. NPR called link rot a “virtual epidemic” in 2014.
“Epidemic” might be overstating it, but I get your point. This is the part where I ask about solutions.
There’s been no shortage of attempted fixes to the link rot problem. The one most people are probably most familiar with is the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, which has achieved 464 billion Web pages over the past 20 years. Other attempts include the academia-focused Perma and the aforementioned Amber.
Member ExclusiveWith the latest crisis, media needs to back up words with actions
For the media industry, this was a week of introspection -- and a time of decision. For all the progressive ideals espoused by publishers, marketers and agencies, most fall well short when it comes to turning words into action.
Down 30% in ad revenue, G/O Media weathers the storm with a new CRO
Despite needing to layoff about 3% of its total staff in April, G/O Media's plan for getting back on its feet includes expanding its team once again.
How BBC Global News has adapted to remote reporting
BBC Global News is launching new shows: In mid-May, a series aired featuring the two strangers discussing their similar experiences dealing with coronavirus.
SponsoredVideo advertisers are turning to format innovation to push beyond interruptive experiences
In a new video, experts from GumGum, The Martin Agency and Pinterest discuss the future of video advertising — and outline their vision for how video ads can be less disruptive.
Member ExclusiveHow Noble People is taking action and managing employees during a time of crisis
Companies are feeling the pressure to respond publicly to the George Floyd protests, but beyond that they have a duty to their employees to know how to better serve them, not just in a time of crisis, but all the time.
As protests escalate, advertisers and media owners face a fresh crisis
The fast-moving and highly fractious events surrounding the death of George Floyd and subsequent nationwide protests have plunged advertisers and publisher back into crisis mode.