Link rot is a problem that affects everyone using the internet on a daily basis. This is when a link becomes dead and no longer links to where it’s supposed to because of site changes. Either the owner stopped maintaining and paying for the domain/hosting, the structure changed, or it was deleted or inaccessible for another reason. Nothing is permanent online (unless it’s your ad data 😉), regardless of what your parents may have said.
Research from Harvard Law School shows about a quarter of all articles on the New York Times suffer from link rot, meaning resources linked on the page are no longer accessible. Additionally, links are not immutable. I personally have links such as ‘https://l.gmr.dev/tiktok‘ that link to my TikTok blog post and that can be changed so I can always keep it up to date. This can be a disadvantage if the site goes offline or the link is mismanaged however.
The problem can be combated by using web archivers, and linking to primary, trusted sources as much as possible. Additionally, it’s helpful to copy + paste the information that’s relevant from the site you’re sharing/linking in case it dies somehow later on.
Factcheck.org, which launched in 2004 now has almost 6,000 dead links. Roughly one third of all the links on Pagella Politica, the Italian fact-checking website I edited before joining Poynter, are currently broken. At the same time, trying to manually keep tabs on the state of a site’s links is too time-consuming to be feasible.cjr.org
The advent of ‘online-only’ services have marked a period full of slow, buggy, overly designed applications, such as Creative Cloud or Epic Games, that run at all times on your computer to feed you advertisements or update notifications. Engines like Unity have transitioned more and more of their editor services and features to online services. Or, they’ve deprecated more traditional methods that would eliminate the need to connect to “Unity Teams” and/or login to their accounts & manage organizations.
When Flash was purged from the internet a few years ago, one of the largest issues Flash archivers faced were games that required connections to servers. Because those servers are no longer around, a game’s functionality can be crippled or even completely broken without a solution. This can easily happen to any server in the future. A program’s functioning that exists on something that may not be there in the future… well, it makes relying on that utility poor planning at best. Many modern day software applications ship without any sort of offline mode or planned use case 20-30 years from now, so that will be interesting to see.
Photos, old posts, and media people thought would be around forever are constantly being deleted. Make any playlist on YouTube with a sizeable number of videos and soon enough a fair number of them will be unavailable. My music library exists entirely on my own servers streamed to me because I can’t trust that Spotify or an alternative will be around in 20 years with the same music I listen to or want to stream now.
Jailbreaking iOS is an increasingly difficult task, and I switched to Android away from Apple’s walled garden a few years ago, but even now most companies are locking it down more and more in the name of security and the common user experience. Samsung removes the ability to unlock the bootloader in most US variants of their new models, so rooting Android is out of the question for me as well.
A bit rambly, but I don’t think there’s much to do about this other than being personally careful about what technologies I enable and what I work on. I’m simply commenting on the current direction of the Internet as a whole because I want the best for it. I’ve become more and more aware of how fragile the current state of everything online is, and began saving and archiving everything preemptively.
Voting with your money and just being aware is probably the best move, and I’ve personally been more and more selective about digital media or programs I’m choosing to spend time, data, energy and finances on.
Quick Links to My Stuff
Published 2022-02-15 04:01:27