Whatever my favorite blog post title used to be, it is now a distant second to this one.
So what is link rot? It’s decay that happens to a linked document over time as links become unresponsive. You add links to pages on other sites, some of those pages disappear or are moved, and suddenly your links don’t work any more.
On a case-by-case basis it’s a nuisance. Over time, and over an entire website, it’s a horror. Across an entire discipline, like law, it’s potentially crippling. Speaking of which….
More than a year ago now I found a couple of dead links in an old post, which made me realize I had no way to find such links on a proactive basis. After using a few web-based spiders to search my site and report on dead links, and finding them wanting, I came across a WordPress plugin called — appropriately — Broken Link Checker.
Installing and running BLC was easy, but the results were frightening. At the time I had over 150 reported broken links, although on closer inspection some of those proved to be links that timed out. Still, 150+ bad links was plenty, yet when I earnestly set about trying to solve the problem I realized I didn’t know how.
Yes, I could see that a link pointed to a page that was no longer available, but how to note that in context so the reader would understand? Worse, what if a whole paragraph was written around the presumption of a link?
Just knowing about the problem has allowed me to be a little smarter about writing link text. For example, in the paragraph above, where I mentioned law, the article I linked to is on Gigaom.com, which went belly-up only a few weeks back. At some point that link will probably be reported dead because the content on Gigaom will no longer be available, but that sentence will still be intelligible without it. It won’t be substantiated, but it will still make sense.
Maddeningly, however, as simple as the problem seems — fix dead links — in practice it has repeatedly proved insurmountable. I psych myself up, I dig into BLC, I fix one or two broken links — usually the easiest ones — then flop back, mentally exhausted.
Searching for sage advice on the interweb reveals fraught awareness of the problem, but few good solutions I can put into practice. Or solutions that are overkill. (Oops — that sentence won’t make much sense when that link dies.)
Since I first installed BLC days have turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into a year, and…well, here I am. Still with 150+ dead links reported.
So it’s time to do something about the problem. I don’t know what that’s going to be, and I suspect it’s going to be a fight all the way, but I’ve got a little time now and nothing better to do. And believe me, I tried to find something better to do.
They say the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have a problem. I have a problem. I have link rot.
— Mark Barrett