Websites change, go away, and are taken down. In general, we understand that the Web is ephemeral and we’re okay with encountering the occasional 404. We can tell ourselves, “Hey, don’t worry about it. There are at least 542 million other cat pictures out there. I’ll find another one.” Sometimes though, you are linking to something important and it’s a huge bummer to lose the content at the other end of the link. Like when you’re reading a Supreme Court opinion and every other link you click on is dead.
The problem of missing linked content, or reference rot, is solvable though and we’ve taken a stab at it. Our solution is Perma.cc.
At Perma.cc, any author (you!) can input a URL for archiving. When you submit the URL to Perma.cc, Perma.cc will, in realtime, download the content at that URL and pass back to you a new URL (a “Perma.cc link”). You can then insert the new link into your scholarly paper, blog entry, or Supreme Court opinion. For example, if you’re referencing the Dole Kemp ‘96 campaign site, you’ll give Perma.cc, dolekemp96.org, and Perma.cc will return http://perma.cc/0M9BDKrtCL6 to you for insertion into your publication.
Perma.cc is a big effort and we knew we’d be in over our heads if we tried to go it alone. So, we found some friends—30 or so amazing partners that are helping us build the product and host the archived sites.
Libraries are ideal partners for Perma.cc. They are uniquely situated to battle reference rot—they’re trusted sources, they’re good at archiving, and they think on a long timescale.
This effort has been getting some coverage lately. Get started with the New York Times piece and give Jonathan Zittrain’s Marketplace Tech interview a listen.
As with all of the Lab’s work, our code is open and we’d love to have your help. So, mosey on over to GitHub, fork the repo, fix and enhance, and send us pull requests. Thank you.