A Historian's take on URLs


#1

Following on from a conversation with @Carl about URLs and link rot (which grew out of a discussion on the Great Content Map of our blog and website) I thought some of you might find this interesting.

Tim Hitchcock is one of the UK’s preeminent historians using digital methods, and has built some pretty spectacular digital humanities projects. I think his take on URLs and not making them ugly is pretty good. Its also a reminder that not everyone “sees” the way the web works, even if so much of the work that they do is online.


#2

Nice article.

FYI for others, this follows on from discussion of link rot Bekka and I were having that included reference to this study (https://blogs.law.harvard.edu/futureoftheinternet/2013/09/22/perma/) from late last year (focussed on law academia, but presumably generally applicable) that found 70% of links referenced in the Harvard Law Journal are now dead, as are 50% of links in all decisions of the US Supreme Court.

Worrying trend for academic accountability/reproducibility. Whether Perma is the solution or not is unclear, but interesting idea.


#3

While I support maintaining links as long as makes sense and creating pretty links that are meaningful, I would like to point out that things aren’t necesarily worse in the digital world: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-02-05/argentine-banking-system-archives-destroyed-deadly-fire

And on a practical point - the internet archive may help if you are looking for a link from way back.


#4

mmm I would argue digital situation is far worse. The above study found 70% of links in Harvard Law Journal 1999-2012 are dead - ie in less than 20 years 2 out of 3 references are gone.

I accept impermanence is a fact of life for both digital and real worlds, but the knowledge shouldn’t rot away that fast (under a generation). Also noting that for digital that’s a best case (no disasters, “natural attrition” still loses 70%), as compared to your example of worst case scenarios.


#5

Also, there is really no reasons for digital stuff to disappear (especially that fast).
There’s a global standard format for persistent identifiers - the problem, I think, is with the creators.

People don’t seem to realise that just throwing something onto the web is like sticking your message on a telephone pole. Eventually it will disappear.