NET NEWS: Link Rot Infests Internet

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  08 Mar 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5561, pp. 1799
DOI: 10.1126/science.295.5561.1799c

The first study to measure the survival of URLs confirms what every savvy surfer suspects: Web sites are almost as ephemeral as Enron's profits. At current rates of decay, an educational site has only a 50-50 chance of lasting more than 5 years.

The extent of the problem emerged after biochemist John Markwell of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and colleague David Brooks began designing a Web-rich curriculum for high school science teachers. “Even over the 3 to 4 months of preparation time, it became obvious that some of the links were disappearing,” says Markwell. Irked but intrigued, the researchers began tracking the pace of “link rot,” Net lingo for links that are no longer usable because the site they refer to has folded or altered drastically.

Of the 515 educational Web sites Markwell and Brooks began monitoring in August 2000, nearly one-fifth have either vanished or changed purpose. (Several became dens for pornography.) Not surprisingly, dot-com sites showed the highest attrition rate40%followed by dot-edu (18%) and dot-org (15%). Markwell says that the rapid turnover frustrates teachers, who quickly learn that they can't rely on these resources. To fight link rot, Markwell suggests that professional societies sponsor the best educational sites in their field. And instead of relying on faculty altruism, universities could reward profs for constructing and maintaining sites.

Navigate This Article