Link Rot

With so much information online, a significant problem in scholarship is “link rot” — broken URLs that prevent us from being able to go to original sources to verify information.

Out of curiosity, I conducted an experiment this weekend. Two years ago, I co-authored a book chapter on barriers to media development in Global Journalism: Topical Issues and Media Systems (Allyn & Bacon, 2009).

Our reference list included 41 electronic citations. How many of these would I still be able to access?

The answer is 34. Actually, that’s better than I had expected, having read that “link rot” can be up to 20 percent a year. Of course, many of our electronic sources are informational mainstays — Freedom House, BusinessWeek, Columbia Journalism Review, the CIA World Factbook.

But I couldn’t access seven citations. In the case of a pro-Palestinian website cited in our chapter, I specifically received an “Access Denied” message upon typing in the URL given in our book chapter.

“Link rot” is a problem for both student papers and faculty scholarship, and publishers are working to create a “persistent citation” approach that would give each source a unique string of alphanumeric code, like the ISBN number given to every book published.

I’m glad that good minds are at work to solve this problem.

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