Readers of TYWKIWDBI sometimes write an email to gently reprimand me (or simply advise me) that a link in a post I wrote ten years ago is broken, or that a YouTube video has been taken down. Sometimes I find new replacement links or videos, but often I have to explain that because the internet is a continually morphing medium, it is inevitable that some older material will become unavailable (especially since this blog has 17,000 entries). The process is typically referred to as "link rot" (fortunately I think all the photos have remained intact because I have always copy-pasted them into TYWKIWDBI rather than hotlinking to the source).
Now, I just quoted from Google’s corporate website, and I used a hyperlink so you can see my source. Sourcing is the glue that holds humanity’s knowledge together. It’s what allows you to learn more about what’s only briefly mentioned in an article like this one, and for others to double-check the facts as I represent them to be... Suppose Google were to change what’s on that page, or reorganize its website anytime between when I’m writing this article and when you’re reading it, eliminating it entirely. Changing what’s there would be an example of content drift; eliminating it entirely is known as link rot...With John Bowers and Clare Stanton, and the kind cooperation of The New York Times, I was able to analyze approximately 2 million externally facing links found in articles at nytimes.com since its inception in 1996. We found that 25 percent of deep links have rotted. (Deep links are links to specific content—think theatlantic.com/article, as opposed to just theatlantic.com.) The older the article, the less likely it is that the links work. If you go back to 1998, 72 percent of the links are dead. Overall, more than half of all articles in The New York Times that contain deep links have at least one rotted link.Deletion isn’t the only issue. Not only can information be removed, but it also can be changed... Consider the experience of Philip Howard, who sat down to read a printed edition of War and Peace in 2010. Halfway through reading the brick-size tome, he purchased a 99-cent electronic edition for his Nook e-reader:As I was reading, I came across this sentence: “It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern …” Thinking this was simply a glitch in the software, I ignored the intrusive word and continued reading. Some pages later I encountered the rogue word again. With my third encounter I decided to retrieve my hard cover book and find the original (well, the translated) text.For the sentence above I discovered this genuine translation: “It was as if a light had been kindled in a carved and painted lantern …”A search of this Nook version of the book confirmed it: Every instance of the word kindle had been replaced by nook, in perhaps an attempt to alter a previously made Kindle version of the book for Nook use...It is only a matter of time before the retroactive malleability of these forms of publishing becomes a new area of pressure and regulation for content censorship.