When I started SJ, it was on a whim, with neither much of an idea why, where it would go nor whether it would be something that I would stick with for any length of time. That was in February, 2007, when the internet was still young, blogs were still a relatively new thing and no one quite knew what would become of them.
Much has happened since then. My original host and blogging program decided to “end of life” itself, meaning that I had to find a new host and program, and somehow manage to get the content out of there and onto here, even though the programs were very different and my original program had no mechanism to move content from one platform to another. It never occurred to GoDaddy back then that it would be needed.
That wreaked havoc with SJ, as the URL structure used by my original blogging program was very different than the one used by my new WordPress program. Every old post got a new URL that conformed to my new program. And all the links for posts prior to GoDaddy end-of-lifing me were dead. On top of that, the code that worked fine at GoDaddy didn’t work as well with WordPress, creating all manner of oddities in my posts.
As Kevin O’Keefe writes, link rot is now a problem.
Link rot in the law is a real problem.
Lawyers, law firms, law schools and other legal publishers don’t plan for link rot, nor do they appreciate the link rot they are causing – mostly by their naivety or the naiviety of the party handling their blog and web publishing.
Sourcing Wikipedia liberally, link rot happens when links on individual websites, blogs or publications point to web pages, servers or other resources that have become permanently unavailable.
Such links are typically referred to as a “broken link” or a “dead link.” Bottom line, the target of the reference no longer exists – or at least not where it originally existed — and you get a 404 error.
Kevin goes on to list many reasons why, and how, link rot happens, and no doubt there are more than he describes. But who knew at the time? We thought the internet was here forever, or to be slightly less naive, we didn’t have any other choice at the time but to link to what was available. And when it became unavailable later, what could we do?
It’s not just links. Youtube videos that are there one day are gone the next. If you embedded a vid in a post (or comment), and then they were disappeared, whether by choice of the person who uploaded it or upon demand of a takedown. The why wasn’t necessarily important. It left a gaping hole where once there was a video of a cop beating the crap out of some poor black kid.
And this problem will get worse, as bloggers get bored and let their domains lapse, their blogs disappear into the ether. As websites that hoped to establish themselves as permanent fixtures learn how revenue streams work, until they collapse in financial ruin. Or decide that a paywall is the answer and deny access to anyone who doesn’t care to subscribe to a thousand different sites.
Then there is the next level of problems, when thousands of old posts, old links, emit the odor of rot. People find old posts and click on dead links, then send nasty emails about how your post from seven years ago sucks because of it. I had to make a choice when I switched from GoDaddy to WordPress whether I was going to spend my days and nights going through every old post to fix links, to fix pics and videos, to make the posts work at least as well as they did when they were posted.
I decided against doing so. The amount of time it would have taken was enormous, and, frankly, it wasn’t going to be fun.
The emails will continue to come in, griping about dead links and failed videos, not to mention my typos from the days before Marilou, then David, now Beth, were kind enough to be my editors. No one told me when I started that this would involve so much behind the scenes work just to keep the blog from becoming a daily nightmare.
SJ was one of the blawgs selected to be archived by the Library of Congress, which was nice. And more personally, it’s a reflection of the times, my thoughts, the contextual changes in law and, to some small extent, society, at least as seen through my eyes. I don’t know that SJ is worthy of saving for the sake of society, but it matters to me even if I don’t spend my days gazing at old posts.
Maybe someday, the content at SJ will prove worthwhile to others as well. And should that happen, and the reader clicks on a link only to find it goes all 404 on them, it will not reflect my failure to source my quotes or assertions, but that the internet isn’t nearly as permanent as we believe it to be. It’s not that the content isn’t here, somewhere, but that it isn’t where we found it or where we left it.
And there isn’t a damn we thing we can do about it, unless you dedicate your life to cleaning up the internet’s mess. Kevin is right, it’s a problem. But not my problem. Stop yelling at me about it. It’s not my fault.