Thoughts on Referencing, Linking, Reference Rot

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Memento Project




This document is motivated by the reference rot problem, a combination of the well-known link rot problem and the less discussed content decay problem. Link rot is about links that stop functioning whereas content decay is about the linked content changing over time, possibly to the extent that it stops being representative of the content that was initially referenced.

A common approach to addressing reference rot is to create an archival snapshot of a linked resource and to link to that snapshot instead of to the live resource. Unfortunately, this approach requires the web archive that hosts the snapshot to remain permanently available, a rather unrealistic proposition. If that archive becomes temporarily or permanently unavailable the link to the archived snapshot stops functioning: one link rot problem was replaced by another.

This document argues that the problem can be avoided by linking to the original resource while providing temporal context - the date the linked resource was accessed and/or the URI of an archived snapshot of the resource - as link attributes. Including the temporal context information, in combination with the use of existing archival infrastructure such as web archives, web archive APIs, and the Memento protocol, helps to ameliorate reference rot problems and can be considered a step towards increased web persistence.


To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 1.0 Unversal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication) with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.

Original Publication Citation

Van de Sompel, H., Klein, M., Sanderson, R., & Nelson, M. (2013). Thoughts on referencing, linking, reference rot. Memento Project.


0000-0003-3749-8116 (Nelson)