08 January 2014

Tip of the Week! Broken Links

The Refugee Studies Centre (RSC) recently unveiled a redesigned web site.  It's great whenever a major forced migration organization adds new content to and improves the navigation of its site; however, invariably these changes also produce broken links on referral sites.  Since I reference RSC materials a lot on this blog, I went back through all my 2013 posts to confirm that links still functioned.  Some redirected to a new URL, but others didn't. I manually updated most of the latter URLs, but it wasn't possible to do so for all of them since some older content has not yet been migrated onto the new site.

As I noted in this earlier post, the issue of "link rot" has been in the news lately, particularly with regard to legal research.  It's unclear, though, exactly how pervasive the problem is.  A project called Hiberlink will attempt to quantify the number of "web links in online scientific and other academic articles [that] fail to lead to the resources that were originally referenced."  In turn, that information may help with the development of better solutions.

In the meantime, what are some strategies to employ when you are confronted with a broken link?
- Copy the link and paste it into the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine; chances are you will be able to locate an archived version.
- Search on the URL in Google; you may find a cached version of it (denoted by an upside-down green triangle to the right of a URL in search results).
- Search on the title of the item; if it's a document, it's likely that a copy will have made its way into another collection like ReliefWeb or Refworld.
- Look for a print version in a library using WorldCat.
- Contact the author and request a copy.

Possible pro-active strategies to adopt before web content disappears include:
- If available, make note of other more stable link identifiers associated with the web content you are interested in, e.g., permalinks (RSC's new publications database now includes these), handles (bibliographic records for ETDs tend to use these), DOIs (many scholarly journal articles have adopted these), etc.
- Use an app like Evernote to make clones of things you like on the web.
- Use the Internet Archive's "Save Page Now" feature to submit a URL for inclusion in the archive and receive a permalink back for more reliable access and citation purposes.
- Use Perma.cc to generate stable links for citing to Internet content.

[Image credit: "Material in the New Orleans city archives," WikiMedia Commons]

Tagged Tips.

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