link rot

We’ve all been there — you’re trying to access a page online and you suddenly receive the dreaded 404 error — ‘Page not found’. Just like that, a piece of unique internet history is gone. This phenomenon is called ‘link rot’.

Link rot is surprisingly common — across major social media platforms 30% of shared links are totally dead within two years. We all imagine the internet to be timeless — after all, sometimes it seems like removing something from the internet is nearly impossible. However, this is simply not true — the traditional web is shockingly fragile and not at all immortal. Over 20 years, 98.4% of web links suffer from rot, becoming totally inaccessible to future generations.

It’s not just casually-shared social media links that are at risk of rot though. Even the most prestigious institutions in the world really struggle with link rot — 50% of U.S. Supreme Court opinions contain dead links, and so do 70% of Harvard academic journals. Both legal judgements and academic research rely very heavily on access to historic evidence decades into the future — link rot jeopardises this.

Stumbled upon this piece about link rot by India Raybould of the Arweave Project. These numbers were insane to think about – but posed a lot of questions about digital litter.

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