Sunday, 04 June, 2006
How to handle dead links?
I got an email message today from a reader who was trying to access the articles that I linked in my July 5, 2005 entry about Admiral James Bond Stockdale. I had originally linked a U.S. Naval Academy site that had PDFs of the two papers and also was offering a printed booklet. Sometime in the past 11 months, the Naval Academy restricted or removed those pages.
One of the nice things about the Internet is that most information is available in more than one place, and I was able to find replacement links. But this incident does bring up a question that I've fought with from time to time: How should I handle broken links?
Typically, when I find or somebody tells me about a broken link on my diary pages, I'll try to fix it. About half the time it's something that I goofed up: a misspelling or a badly-formatted link. Those are easy enough to fix, and I'll do it without question. The balance of the bad links are pages that have been moved or deleted: the information is no longer where I said it was. I don't know the best way to handle those cases.
As I see it, I have the following choices:
- Ignore the error. This is the least helpful of the choices, but has the advantage of requiring no effort. It also keeps the diary entry in its original form. That is, it retains the historical record. If I follow this path, I assume that if readers really want to find out about the information I mentioned, they'll go search it out themselves.
- Fix the error by changing the link. As I said above, most things on the Internet are available in multiple places, so changing the link to a particular document is no big deal. However, many times I link an individual page on a site, but also make mention of the site in general. Do I remove all mention of the previous site?
- Fix the error by creating an addendum to the diary entry. This is the path I chose for the Stockdale entry mentioned above. Although I removed the links to the Naval Academy site, I did maintain mention of it. I think this is the proper way to go in order to keep things current but also acknowledge where I first found the information. Provided, of course, that the historical record is important at all.
This touches on another, similar, issue: how to handle outdated or updated information. I'll post some thoughts on that the next time.