Never heard of Link Rot?  It’s time you did.  Link rot is ubiquitous.

Wikipedia defines link rot as the phenomenon of hyperlinks that, over time, cease to work for various reasons.  The targeted file, webpage, or server has relocated, or it no longer exists.  It’s a problem that manifests itself with error messages like this:

404 Page Not Found: the page/resource doesn’t exist on the server.

The problem is growing, as services like Google, Twitter, and Meta take steps to close down inactive accounts.  A Harvard Business School study of New York Times articles showed that fully 50% of the links appearing in NYT articles since 1996 are inaccessible.  Of the articles containing “deep” links, those links that point to a specific webpage, nearly three quarters of those were dead.

This is particularly problematic for those who post regularly on LinkedIn and other platforms, doing little more than sharing others’ work.  You know what I mean. “I found this (linked) article about Elon Musk’s bonsai plants to be particularly thought provoking.”  Two years from now that article may have been pruned as thoroughly as Mr. Musk’s miniature trees.

My blogs, while too long for modern attention spans and sensibilities, are not immune.  I take solace in the fact that, while I reference two to three articles per blog, I do so to bolster a point or to provide additional information.  It’s been years since I hyperlinked to an article, adding only a click-bait introduction, such as: “Black is the new orange. Check out this game-changing post about Steve Job’s turtlenecks and how they inspired Tibetan monks to update their wardrobe.”   

For the most part, link rot is a benign phenomenon.  Broken links go nowhere.  Unfortunately, as with most things “internet,” link rot provides an opportunity for those who are less morally constrained.  It has been reported that certain groups exploit broken links on big media sites, buying closed domains so that they can use the links to advertise their products or express their contrary viewpoints.

So, if you want to save that online recipe or that intriguing article, do more than just add it to your Favorites.  That’s just a temporary solution.  Download, screen grab, or otherwise copy the information you want.  It’s the best long-term solution.

Link rot is real.  The internet is losing its memory.

Peter Dragone - Co-founder of Keurig.