The End Of Dead Links?

Death to “link rot”: here’s where the Internet goes to live forever (Fast Company, 28 March 2014) – The phrase “link rot” probably summons many images for you–none of them good. And while clicking on a dead link isn’t quite as physically unpleasant as, say, touching a piece of slimy, disintegrating wood, bad links are weakening the web as surely as bad beams can compromise a building. When websites disappear or change, any piece of work–be it a blog post, book, or scholarly dissertation–that linked to those resources no longer makes quite as much sense. And some of these now-moldering links are structurally important to the fragile, enduring edifice of human knowledge: in fact, according to one recent study , half of the links in Supreme Court decisions either lead to pages with substantially altered content or no longer go anywhere, at all. In the face of this decay, the authors of that paper, the legal scholars Jonathan Zittrain, Kendra Albert, and Lawrence Lessig, floated one possible fix: create “a caching solution” that would help worthy links last forever. Now, this idea is being in practice by, a startup based out of the Harvard Law Library. Old-school institutions like law school libraries, it turns out, may be perfectly positioned to fight against the new-school problem of link rot. Libraries, after all, are “really good at archiving things,” as Perma’s lead developer, Matt Phillips, puts it. “We have quite a history of storing things safely that are important to people for a really long time,” says Phillips, a member of Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab. “It’s a failure if we’re not preserving what’s being created online.” To start with,’s small team of developers, librarians, and lawyers has designed an archiving tool that’s as easy to use as any link shortener. Stick in a link, and you’ll get a new Perma-link–along with an archive of all the information on the page that link leads to. Anyone can sign up as a user, and create links with a shelf life of two years, with an option to renew. A select group of users, though, can “vest” links–committing to store their contents indefinitely. Since launching last fall, the project has grown rapidly, signing up a couple thousand users and recruiting 45 libraries and dozens of law journals as partners. But only a fourth of’s users–472 “vesting members” and 113 “vesting managers,” at current count–have the power to grant links immortality (or as close to it as can manage). “The problem is, in practice, it’s a very serious commitment to say this will be kept forever,” says Jack Cushman, who started contributing to as volunteer, before joining formally as a Harvard Law School Library fellow. “It’s not something that we can promise to everyone in the world to begin with.”

Provided by MIRLN.

Image courtesy of Miles.