How to address reference rot?

+2 votes
66 views
asked Aug 7, 2015 in Meta by Daniel Mietchen (1,165 points)

Links are pointers to other documents on the Web. Most of them come with no mechanism whatsoever to ensure that what was available under that address this morning will still be there at any time later. Links could point to documents that have disappeared (link rot), or to documents whose content has changed (content drift). In both cases, the result is reference rot.

One way to address this is to copy relevant passages from the cited address and to paste them in here (with proper indication and attribution), but this is limited to short passages. Paraphrasing (still with proper attribution) can be a workaround, but may require considerable effort.

Another way to address this is to encourage - or even automate - the archiving of links cited from posts here. There are various Web archiving initiatives (see list on the English Wikipedia), of which I am most familiar with WebCite, the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, perma.cc, Hiberlink and Memento.

Should we encourage the use of such archiving services for links posted here? Should we require it? Is there some way in which we could make it automatic (e.g. like this Wikipedia bot)?



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commented Aug 17, 2015 by Daniel Mietchen (1,165 points)
@FranckDernoncourt Interesting and timely discussion - thanks for the pointer.

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commented Aug 17, 2015 by Franck Dernoncourt (540 points)
Some ideas: [on Stack Overflow, 10% of the links posted here are dead](http://meta.stackoverflow.com/q/300916/395857).

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1 Answer

0 votes
answered Aug 10, 2015 by Zizouz212 (320 points)

I wouldn't worry about it. Here's why:

If your answer is a link answer, it shouldn't exist anyway. Link answers are frowned upon for the exact reason that you list: that the link can rot, and possibly vanish without a trace, and without anyone knowing. Links are like helpful ghosts: They'll support your argument, then vanish.

Since most good answers on the site should not point people to a link, it shouldn't be an issue. Answers should include quotes, informative content based on experience and the like. Links are present to help support an argument, to attribute to a source... etc.

Whatever it is, don't force people to use services such as the swayback machine or anything. There's no use in the extra step anyway, and if information updates on the linked site, you miss out on anything new.

Link rot isn't really an issue you should be concerned about. You should only be concerned if you've got a site, which is just pointing to other site, and boy is that never happening on something like Stack Exchange :)



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