14 November 2013

Reflections on the Forced Migration Information Landscape: The Impermanence of the Web

With the increased availability of forced migration information online comes an array of challenges.  I wanted to touch on just three.  The first is the impermanence of the web.  Resources get moved, they aren't updated, or they may disappear altogether.  I'm sure if I tested all the links in my blog, over half would no longer be valid!  This is otherwise known as link rot.  Apparently, I am in good company: The NYT reported recently on a study of hyperlinks in U.S. Supreme Court decisions that concluded 49% of them don't work anymore!

In a separate post, I'd like to highlight some of the available strategies for addressing link rot.  For now, I'll simply say to any readers who have discovered invalid links on this blog, I hope there is sufficient bibliographic detail provided to enable you to track down the item elsewhere.  Another option is to copy the URL (which you can do by right-clicking on it), then paste it in at archive.org to see if a version was captured by the Internet Archive.  (Apparently, this strategy would not work if I had used link shorteners, as is commonly done on Twitter - yet another can of worms!)

What about resources that are discontinued?  I can't begin to enumerate all the resources that have come and gone over the years, but let's take a look at one: the World Refugee Survey, which ceased publication in 2009 after a very long run.  Today, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) site only provides access to the last three issues, so what options do we have for getting a hold of older texts? Happily, there are several.  One is through the Internet Archive, which I mentioned above. Through the archive, I can access complete Surveys dating back to at least 2002 (prior to that, information from the latest Survey was just used to update portions of the USCRI web site).  Country of origin information databases like ecoi.net and Refworld are also helpful in this regard; while they don't provide access to the complete texts, they do allow you to retrieve older country profiles which represented the core part of the Surveys. And, of course, a third way is through libraries, particularly for the earliest issues.  Use Worldcat.org to locate the nearest library that carries them.

Unfortunately, this particular scenario is not something we can expect for all information that disappears, so access over the long-term is going to remain an ongoing challenge.

Tagged Publications and Web Sites/Tools.

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