Over the weekend, I read a fascinating article by Jill Lepore about the Internet and the challenges in archiving its content.
The Internet was not built to preserve content—and you can see that every time you follow a link and get nowhere. This is more than mere inconvenience, however. Lawyers and judges include Web pages in their footnotes, and scholars cite URLs in the notes for their books, articles, and other publications. Likewise, authors of some of Lerner’s nonfiction books include URLs in their source notes.
A 2014 Harvard Law School study looks at the legal implications of Internet link decay, and finds reasons for alarm. The authors, Jonathan Zittrain, Kendra Albert and Lawrence Lessig, determined that approximately 50% of the URLs in U.S. Supreme Court opinions no longer link to the original information. They also found that in a selection of legal journals published between 1999 and 2011, more than 70% of the links no longer functioned as intended.
Lepore sums up the problem succinctly: “The footnote, a landmark in the history of civilization, took centuries to invent and to spread. It has taken mere years nearly to destroy.”
Depressed yet? Never fear, Lepore offers hope as well! It comes in the form of Perma.cc. In their words, “With a Perma.cc account, you can create links to archived versions of web pages cited in your work. All you have to do is specify the URL of the page you want to preserve. Perma.cc will store the page and give you a unique Perma Link – like perma.cc/FC7M-CRS9 – that you can use to direct readers to the preserved page.”
I can’t tell you how excited I am by this. The idea that we could include URLs in our books and not have to worry about them going bad is a revelation. As a children’s publisher, one of the things we try to do (in addition to creating excellent books about interesting and relevant topics) is to model good scholarship habits for our readers. Their teachers are asking them to conduct thorough research and to cite their sources, and I have to believe that if they see examples of authors doing the same thing, students will start to better understand just why this matters.
Photo credit: cc Pankaj Kaushal