20 August 2009

Link rot... and how to prevent it.

I really don't know how any of the links that appear in print journals can be taken seriously. As readers of Information Research will know, we ask authors to archive all Web documents to WebCite to avoid "link rot". However, practically no one reads the Instructions for Authors, so, in future, I'll be sending back all papers that do not have WebCite links in them. The urgency with which this needs to be addressed cannot be overstated: I recently edited a paper where a number of links from between 2005 and 2008 had simply disappeared. In one case, an entire chunk of material on a site had disappeared, although the main site was still there. This puts the author in a difficult position. What does s/he do about the material cited in the text, when the evidence for its existence has disappeared? In a limited number of cases one might accept the old link and add a note to the effect that the material is no longer available, but normally, the author is going to be asked to rewrite the text, either locating equivalent material or somehow rewriting in such a way that the the missing material is no longer significant.

So, the message is: whenever you find a Web document which you think you may use, archive it to WebCite immediately - it takes less than a minute and not only do you benefit by being sure that you can find the document again, but everyone who reads your paper will also be able to locate the same document. In my experience of using WebCite only a very small proportion of sites refuse to allow WebCite to archive documents - when this happens I'm tempted to archive it myself! Here's what a correct reference will look like:

  • Lawrence, S. (2001). Online or invisible? Nature, 411(6837). 521. Retrieved 18 August, 2009 from http://citeseer.ist.psu.edu/online-nature01/ (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5j7fVIChu)

  • All this fuss about references, you might say. Well, that's another point: authors seem to be under the impression that citations and references only serve to satisfy the reviewers that they've actually done some background work :-) Not so - the purpose of the reference is to enable the reader to discover your sources and check them out for him/herself - there is little that is more frustrating than finding an interesting quotation in a paper and then being unable to find the source because the document has disappeared from the Web. Strike a blow for scholarly communication - USE WEBCITE!

    No comments:

    Post a Comment