The Link Rots From The Head Down

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.

42 thoughts on “The Link Rots From The Head Down

  1. Christenson

    Begin, then, by prioritizing what you really want to preserve. Don’t swat the typos, and let the old stuff go sometimes.
    A certain mistrust of the part of the internet you don’t control is very helpful…if it’s really important, make a copy!

    1. SHG Post author

      Did something in this post suggest to you that I was asking for your prioritization advice? Or any other advice? Ever?

  2. Nemo

    That attitude rather baffles me, since it’s something the Pointy-Haired Boss said: If I don’t understand it, it must be easy. Keeping all the links in all the posts at SJ functional would be a mammoth task indeed, even if you were to only do it once, but this sort of complaint would still go on, because links die – and sometimes the content of a dead link has vanished, as well. This means that, to satisfy such demands, the link curation at SJ would have to be performed on a regular basis (monthly? Daily?!), checking each and every link for functionality. That isn’t a reasonable demand.

    Maybe what you need is to add a companion button to the pink one, so that people can specifically go there when links don’t work. My suggestion would be that it be baby blue, and include somewhere the words “google is your friend”, but that’s just me.

    As for worthwhile, you know my opinion on that, but I want to specifically express my appreciation for that ‘splainer. Lots of food for thought there, and some of the links in the footnotes were great, as well. I’m still potato-chipping from there, and I’ve even managed to correct some of my opinions from the facts I have encountered. Riches, to me, so thank you.

    Best regards,

    Nemo

    1. SHG Post author

      As of today, there are 9766 published posts at SJ, and another 226 unpublished posts (I tend not to delete the posts I wrote but decided not to publish). I can’t bear to read my own writing, so I rarely look back. Some people will read and old posts and note dead links, pics, vids, formatting, and even typos, with corrections so I can go back and easily fix them. Some just yell at me, often without even noting the posts they’re talking about (as if I can remember all my posts).

  3. Carolyn Elefant

    The irony is that it is a problem because you actually have continuous, new content and also because you leave your stuff up. Some bloggers could update links from past content in an hour because they only have 20 posts while others delete posts any time their past opinions are no longer trendy or they were actually wrong. I’d rather see past content in all its broken glory than something shiny and new that erases its history. That’s just creepy. Hope you’re doing well Scott!

    1. SHG Post author

      I ran into an old post of yours/ours a couple weeks ago, when we fought over something. It was fun to look back. We had good times fighting over every little nuance. Hope all is well with you, too. Carolyn.

  4. Ross

    The people who want you to fix old links are assholes. All of us should be grateful you continue to post stuff that makes us smarter.

    1. SHG Post author

      Nah. Some are, but most don’t realize it’s a post from years ago and want everything to be where it’s supposed to be and working. I can’t blame them. The ones who just want to yell at me may be assholes, but the ones who help are appreciated.

  5. CAB

    Congratulations on SJ’s selection.

    For the past five years, I’ve been working on a project about an early- to mid-twentieth century sociologist (he died in 1951). It’s archival work, and it’s been possible and fruitful because the man in question was a paper-hoarder. He saved just about every letter he ever received and a copy of most of the letters he sent, in addition to detailed daily journals, paper manuscripts, research notes, and so forth. As I sift through all those materials, I think a lot about the fact that the kind of work I’m doing won’t be possible for future researchers who will try to understand this current era and the people who populate it, for exactly the reasons you describe. There isn’t really any paper to horde anymore. All or almost all correspondence occurs through e-mail; we blog instead of journaling; we write manuscripts and keep notes on a computer. Social media is its own animal entirely. And it’s all ephemeral. I worry that there won’t be any archival work in the future, because there won’t be anything archived to look through (SJ excluded, of course).

    And, like you say, I don’t think there’s anything we can do about it. I just mourn for the poverty to which we’re condemning historical work in the future.

    1. SHG Post author

      That started in 2008 (see the badge on the sidebar?). I would like to think SJ will serve as a time capsule some day. But when I’m gone, what will become of it? If my host isn’t paid, it will go poof and be gone.

      1. Losingtrader

        Trust me: You won’t care after you die.
        (My estate lawyer is worried about me spreading this heresy .)

      2. Kathleen Casey

        My estate lawyer suggests a trust. Or a foundation. Maybe The Tornado will join in with his blawg. Funded by ?? the sweat of your hard mental labor of course. The Library of Congress would be encouraged for the sake of posterity.

        Congratulations for the Library. Thank you for all you do.

        1. SHG Post author

          The LOC doesn’t archive everything, as far as I’m aware, and it’s unclear what exactly they have/will archive. Maybe some institution will buy SJ and preserve it in perpetuity. More likely that I’ll be institutionalized before that happens.

          Edit: Just found this blast from the past (2011). Damn, this was funny.

  6. Guitardave

    Kinda makes ya wanna run right out and buy into the latest geek horseshit…”secure your information!..put everything in the cloud!”….RIGHT!..clouds are so secure…

    On a different note, Congrats on the L.O.C. thing…..”nice”..HA! Don’t be so modest,( did i just say that?) I really think its an awesome compliment. Though you don’t seem to be the kind of guy that needs it, the acknowledgment that what you say is worth archiving should, at the least, let you feel a little better about weather this “labor of love” is worth it. It is, and apparently, i ain’t the only one who thinks so, so pour yourself three fingers of that $cotch and bask a little, OK?
    In spite of the fact that the people your really trying to reach have their ears all plugged up with feelz, singing to the choir IS a worthy endeavor when it makes the weaker singers better. Sharpening the logic of schlubs like myself kinda gives you a proxy army for the cause. Or in other words…the influences of your emanations pass beyond the penumbra of your corona.

    PS: I’ve opened enough back links at times to hit the ole 404…..so I’M SORRY, I WASN’T YELLING AT YOU! ITS THIS GODDAMNED COMPUTER!!!!

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s all disposable, and the worst part of it is that young people neither notice nor care. They watch tech companies magically appear, then disappear, and aren’t bothered at all. They buy the coolest new tech at ridiculous prices and then, when the companies go under, own bricks. Yet, it neither stops them nor bothers them. They have no expectation of longevity, that a thing should last ten, 20 years. Two years and everything gets thrown away for the new shiny toy.

      1. Guitardave

        Oh don’t even get me started on planned obsolescence. I think it was in the 70’s when i first encountered “sealed” (as in no grease zerks) ball joints and tie rod ends….it was then i realized who won the “bean counters vs. the engineers” war. ( maybe i should call that the “hey we can make this last forever vs. the fuckem’, make it wear out sooner so they buy another” war)
        The thing that seems to be missing in today’s electro-gadget world , i think mostly due to the complexity and proprietary nature of the tech, is small start-up company’s that would service the “bricks”, or even archive things for a price…. the tech giants would never allow that, of course…it would cut into the sale of your new “future brick”.
        In my world of mechanical things, any one with a brain and some equipment can start manufacturing obsoleted parts when a company goes under…if a car/bike/whatever was popular enough, you can do a pretty good biz taking up the slack. That don’t seem to be possible, or even worth considering, when the mindset of the users is to look at all their stuff as Bic lighters. Were in a disposable world now….i can’t wait to see how this gen deals with old tech people….can you say euthanasia?

        1. SHG Post author

          My son told me he wants a sled for Christmas. I asked, “what would you possibly do with a sled?” He gave me the eye. “You know, old man.”

  7. JR

    I’m getting some popcorn. Waiting for the reply to some geek that lectured SJ on some way to keep the links working.

    1. SHG Post author

      “All you need is a program that would crawl all your old posts, test the links, replace the dead ones and old ones that end in the dead GoDaddy suffix with new ones, surf the web for the same content, replace the content with the exact same content with new links from new sources or the Wayback Machine, and boom, you’re done.”

      Uh huh.

      1. EARL WERTHEIMER

        Some of us do law. Some of us convert web sites.
        “The amount of time it would have taken was enormous, and, frankly, it wasn’t going to be fun.”
        The alternative was to pay someone to do the conversion. You made your choice.

        I can also do some Healey repairs…

        1. SHG Post author

          That’s true, I could have paid someone to go through all the old posts. But think that one through: why would I?

  8. Richard Kopf

    SHG,

    That SJ was archived by the Library of Congress is a big deal. That link rot may make SJ less complete than when originally written causes me to think about the incompleteness of ancient texts written on parchment.

    Look at this way, someday far in the future scholars will have cushy jobs putting SJ back together. You will become the modern equivalent of the author of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I’m pretty sure that you will be referred to then as “SHG, the Skeptic.”

    Even more, reconstructed references to you being an “Admiral” will confuse and launch still more academic inquiry. I am betting one group of scholars will look to Greek mythology, and wonder whether the reference to “Admiral” meant that you had achieved the status of the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead.

    So, in sum, link rot on SJ will provide full employment for large numbers of the academics of 2600. Knowing your affection for academics, that must give you some slight but intense comfort.

    Have a nice day!

    All the best.

    RGK

  9. Hunting Guy

    Charon was paid an oboe for each dead person. An oboe bought about 6 pints of wine.

    Three obols was a standard rate for prostitutes.

    But I bet you already knew that.

    I leave it someone else to convert that to $US.

  10. B. McLeod

    Not much reason/return in fixing decayed links. Stuff may stay on the web forever, but people don’t read it forever. Chances are, if someone is digging into your old stuff, it is only for targeted character assassination purposes anyway, and it isn’t like the dicks who get into that actually need to read anything you linked in order to count the number of times you were “literally Hitler” for things you wrote.

    1. SHG Post author

      Some, sure. There are some legit readers for the substance. Old posts obviously don’t get the reads newer ones do, but you would be surprised.

  11. John Wolfe

    When I started reading SJ back in 2010, (got here via the Lowering The Bar newsletter), I found a world I was largely unfamiliar with. My world view at the time was limited to the information provided to me by the local and national media and I largely dismissed most of it because it didn’t affect my day-to-day affairs, or so I thought.

    Your writing style and the subjects you wrote about kept me coming back, and as I read each new post, my mind was opened to a world about which I knew little. I was soon hooked. As I read each new post, it quickly became apparent that many of them were based on previous posts, and as I read the back links ( which led to more back links), I realized that I was missing the big picture, the context within which many of your posts are written.

    So starting from the very first post in 2007, I read everything in chronological order. As I did, I kept reading the current posts as they became available and after a period of time, the newer posts started to make more sense. It was quite a bit like reading a recent history of the country from your unique perspective. I didn’t (and don’t) always understand that perspective, but I followed your links and dug further into those areas I found interesting enough to do so, and am a more informed person than I was 9 years ago.

    Thank you for writing SJ and congratulations on being inducted into the Library of Congress.

    1. SHG Post author

      When I (occasionally) look back, I see reflections of the time. When I didn’t have an editor, just typed and his “post” without regard to whether the post was replete with typos, or disruptions of my train of thought. I see themes, games I play to see if any reader notices. I see the differences between weekday posts and weekend posts. I see when I stay far away from politics, until politics infiltrated law to such an extent I could no longer avoid it. I see when I went from being considered very lefty to being not lefty at all.

      The content is mostly substantive, with notable exceptions, but it’s also a diary for me. If I didn’t write, I would probably explode. Thanks for reading.

  12. MelK

    Of course you can prevent link rot! The answer is clear and simple! Simply duplicate and host all the material you are linking to! … and the tools to view it. And maybe duplicate and host all the material from those pages as well! Surely you have essentially infinite ability to store random segments of the Internet, right?

    Oh, wait, I forgot about copyright. Well, that completes the Mencken cycle, at least.

    1. SHG Post author

      Nothing to it, they tell me. Everybody has an easy answer, except the dope who has to actually deal with it.

  13. black bellamy

    It looks like they stopped archiving on July 10, 2017. What happened? Did they reach their quota about Tumblr sex tapes? Anyway, I’m in the Library of Congress, I’m in the Library of Congress!

    1. SHG Post author

      It was kind of them to archive at all. But they probably ran out of room archiving pics of Kardashian butts.

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