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Dead Link Department 🔗

MidRange
Dead Link Department 🔗
By Ernie Smith • Issue #107 • View online
How a working link printed in an old newspaper got me thinking anew about the dead links that cover the internet.

(Jackson Simmer/Unsplash)
(Jackson Simmer/Unsplash)
Last weekend, in the midst of all my cleaning, I came across my old newspaper pages, some of which are nearly 20 years old at this point. The newsprint is fraying and yellowed at this juncture, but it’s still totally readable. It’s my history—and I made a point of keeping a bunch of it around. I still remember a lot of the pitfalls and conundrums that came with some of those pages, which often had offbeat illustrative styles. (I tended to do a lot with paper textures.)
This is, literally, old news. But hiding in the midst of all these old pages was a digital surprise. In the final issue of my old newspaper Link, I was given the opportunity to create a humorous parody bacon page, which I filled with real content, even if the section itself was kind of a joke. (To give you an idea, there was a “strip tease” on the page, along with fake blotches of grease, which I thought was a nice touch.)
Link often gave me opportunities to do sort of novelty topics like these, and I actually had quite a few bylines on the entertainment and pop culture beat by the time I had finished there. (Then as now, I would write and design the pages.) The bacon page feels a lot like something I would do now.
But this was all on dead trees, and I only had a single page, so inevitably I linked to the broader internet, and because of the limited space, I shortened the links. One of the things I linked to was Archie McPhee’s bacon gifts, which fit perfectly with the tone of the page. My way of linking them, given the tight space: A TinyURL address, linking to http://tinyurl.com/baconstuff.
Ernie Smith
Years before I became friends with @zoomar I gave Archie McPhee a shoutout on this page. Side note: These @TinyURL links are 13 years old and they still work! https://t.co/p9zGHBqlgr
To my utter shock, the damn link worked, 13 years later. This is especially impressive because the link is from a link shortener. 
This is not a new beat for me of course—one of my better-known Tedium pieces, more than four years old at this point, discusses the book Free $tuff From the Internet and its lack of working links in the modern day. But at this point, having researched this stuff for many years and seen lots of stuff since, my point about link rot is such that I am basically surprised any time that I come across a printed work that’s more than a decade old and doesn’t point to the top-level domain, where the links still work.
There problem is that we never really properly set the expectation for permanence for many of these links, which means that, eventually, we’re going to have a bigger problem on our hands. We have the Internet Archive (fortunately) along with other archival efforts. But this requires people to actually care about stuff like this.
An example of a newsroom “morgue,” where copies of old newspapers are kept for anyone that wants a copy, including staff. (Lindsey Turner/Flickr)
An example of a newsroom “morgue,” where copies of old newspapers are kept for anyone that wants a copy, including staff. (Lindsey Turner/Flickr)
When I worked at Link, it was in the Virginian-Pilot building. That building had a sizable “morgue” with all the old Pilot issues, and all the old Link issues. The ones I wanted to keep that I didn’t have a chance to grab a copy of, I could go down and pick up as needed. It was great, it supported the historical record, and it was something that a lot of websites do not do in the modern day.
It’s awesome that the Internet Archive and similar services do this. But what about regular companies? Like, what is Ozy (now shuttered, in case you haven’t heard) going to do to protect their old bylines as the lawsuits come pouring in? How are websites maintaining their digital “morgues”?
We have some nonprofits doing great work here, but ultimately if you run a website that produces content, you should have a plan to keep your content alive as best you can. It’s your history. Don’t let the dead links mount up.
Related Reads:
'90s Internet Books: Do the Links Still Work?
Webring History: Social Media Before Social Media
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: 2 minutes, 29 seconds
If you like this, be sure to check out more of my writing at Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.
Do you own a newsletter? Want to try your hand at writing an entire article in 30 minutes or less? If so, let’s do a swap—reply to this email to see about setting something up.
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Ernie Smith

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