Avoiding Link Rot in Print With the Help of Perma.cc

by {"name"=>"Aaron Gustafson", "uri"=>"https://www.aaron-gustafson.com", "twitter"=>"AaronGustafson", "googleplus"=>"AaronGustafson"} on 02 December 2015

I think we can all agree, link rot is a problem. A 2014 study by Harvard Law School determined that roughly 50% of the URLs referenced in U.S. Supreme Court opinions no longer work. That’s terrifying.

When I was mid-way through writing the Second Edition of Adaptive Web Design, I realized that it was pretty likely some of the links I was referencing might disappear over the years. Little did I know, some of them would disappear while I was writing the book!

The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is pretty good, but it doesn’t archive everything, and I often find captured pages end up broken—especially if they rely heavily JavaScript, but often images go missing as well. I wanted to make sure that when you pick up the book a year from now or even 10 years from now, the links will still work.

I evaluated a few options for creating a permanent archive of each and every link in the book (there are over 200), but then it dawned on me that Perma.cc might be the perfect answer.

Perma.cc was created by the Harvard Library Innovation Lab in reaction to the paper I mentioned earlier. It is a distributed archive of URLs for scholarly and legal documents, supported not only by Harvard, but over 90 (and counting!) libraries, distributed all over the world. It’s also open source. Each URL is preserved as a live view, an archived view, and a screen capture taken when the link is added. Archived URLs are kept for a minumum of 2 years, but may be “vested” into the permanent archive by a member organization.

I had contributed some CSS to the project a while back, so I reached out to my contacts to see if they might be interested in vesting all of the links for the book. Turns out they were big fans of the First Edition and enthusiastically offered their support.

Converting all of the links took time (and a lot of double- and triple-checking), but the result is that every article, blog post, and web page that I referenced in the book will remain accessible to you in perpetuity. I think that’s pretty awesome. And, as an added bonus, since Perma.cc creates unique URLs that are relatively short, those of you who read it in print won’t have to re-type the often incredibly-lengthy original URLs.

I can’t thank Matt Phillips, Adam Ziegler, Jack Cushman, and everyone else at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab enough for creating Perma.cc and for offering their service to my readers. You all are amazing!