Later eventually comes, but when you’re ready to read it, you click the link and get the dreaded 404 error. The link no longer works. What gives?
Link rot is what gives.
For example, in September of 2014, Maciej Cegłowski -- who runs the social bookmarking website Pinboard -- spoke at the HOW Interactive Design conference in Washington, DC and had this to say about link rot: “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.”
In fact, the widespread ramifications of link rot are only just starting to be recognized. Last year, Jonathan Zittrain, Kendra Albert, and Lawrence Lessig published findings in Legal Information Management that showed 50% of the URLs within United States Supreme Court opinions do not link to the cited information.
So why should you care about link rot? Well, in the survey Indie Preserves conducted earlier this year, we found out that A) two-thirds of respondents said they save their press clippings, and B) the second most common method of tracking digital press clips was through saved links. While we applaud the saving of your press items, we can’t stress enough that bookmarking and link-saving just aren’t good enough methods. At best, your links are about as saved as your social media data, and as we wrote about last week, your saved social media data is pretty damn incomplete.
Luckily, you have options. The best way to keep those clips, instead of link-saving, is the obvious: save a local copy. Copy the body text of the page, along with the URL, and save it to a text file along with your other label/band files. Better yet, create a PDF of the web page and save the contextual information, as well as the visuals, accompanying the text of the page. (If you happened to forget that we at Indie Preserves are big fans of the PDF, refresh you memory here.)
If saving local copies are far too much of a burden and you absolutely, positively have to save the link, sites like Perma.cc and WebCite specialize in creating permanent links to online sources by archiving copies of web pages. While Perma.cc is geared toward links for academic papers and articles, WebCite is free and open for all to use.
The big thing to remember is that the internet is like a mist of smoke: it may hang around for a while, but eventually it dilutes to the point of disappearing. When it comes to stuff that’s important to you, it’s best to take a snapshot before it completely fades away.