Perma: Scoping and addressing the problem of “link rot”


Kendra AlbertLarry Lessig and I are finishing up a study of link rot, available at Link rot is the phenomenon by which material we link to on the distributed Web vanishes or changes beyond recognition over time.  (Wiki discusses link rot here.)  This is a particular problem for academic scholarship, which is increasingly linking out to the Web rather than more formal, library-curated sources.  That kind of linking makes clear sense, but having materials easily accessible right until they vanish means that academic work (government documents, such as judicial opinions) can end up with sources that can’t be checked or followed up upon by readers.

We found that half of the links in all Supreme Court opinions no longer work.  And more than 70% of the links in such journals as the Harvard Law Review (in that case measured from 1999 to 2012), currently don’t work.  As time passes, the number of non-working links increases.

Our work builds on other great link rot studies such as that by Raizel Liebler and June Liebert in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology, available here (PDF).

In response, the Harvard Library Innovation Lab has pioneered a project to unite libraries so that link rot can be mitigated.  We are joined by about thirty law libraries around the world to start, which will allow those libraries on direction of authors and journal editors to store permanent caches of otherwise ephemeral links.  Libraries are the ideal partners for this task: they think on a long timescale; they take user trust and service seriously; and they are non-commercial. You can see more about the system at  The amazing Internet Archive has lent its archiving engine to the effort, and Instapaper has generously provided an alternative path to parse Web pages to be saved.  CloudFlare has kindly ensured that the the system at can scale with use.

We’re grateful to these many institutions and people who have come together to help make the Web work for the ages — the only way this can work is as a peer effort.

Perma’s founding partners are:

NYT story here.  And the Perma link to this very page can be found at  (How’s that for recursive?)


One comment

  1. One question – requires that a link be used in a published journal and verified before being stored permanently. Will it “verify” links being cited in Wikipedia articles if submitted? We don’t want to lose one of the best open source “journals” in the world.

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