How to prevent link rot of Internet references in blogs and other publications?
In recent years, there has been an increase in electronic references in scholarly literature, distance learning resources, and other documents. This has been accompanied by a dramatic rise in link rot. While threatening the foundations of academic research, it is also annoying to the average Internet user and devalues the effort put in the publication. But there is a way around the problem of unstable links, which may also help you in your work, research, or studies in a number of other ways.
A possible solution
Instead of referring directly to URLs on the Internet, you could refer to documents in your own online reference manager. Provided you don´t change these intermediary URLs yourself, they remain stable. In itself this does not prevent link rot. There is a continued need to check the links in the reference manager and repair any broken links. This is usually no problem. The advantage is that maintenance can be done centrally and systematically. You could even use free link checking software to do most of the work.
Does it work?
I conducted a practical test using a post on social network analysis in my CSL4D blog. The post contains about 10 citations. Most of these provide a link to a reference in Mendeley, my free reference manager. From there, a link is provided to the actual online document or web page (follow the “Available from …” link). If the link breaks, a new one can be added, but meanwhile visitors may be able to find the paper or book via Google Scholar or WorldCat. Direct links to these services are provided by Mendeley. It is good to know that if Google Scholar fails, it is usually worth making one more click to Google Web. If you have resources on the Internet, but in an environment that is controlled by yourself such as Scribd or DropBox, you have full control over the link. If you make a change there, you should not forget to make a corresponding change in Mendeley.
Are there other advantages?
The entire solution can be implemented using free Web 2.0 tools. The visibility of the right Web 2.0 tools can be very high, so it is also a way of mainstreaming your ideas. Generally, web 2.0 tools are very user-friendly. You can add to the user-friendliness of your blog or document by stopping link rot and facilitate the import of metadata for your carefully selected references.
Relevance to international development
Many publications by international development institutions such as the CGIAR centres, the OECD, or the World Bank, and by the multitude of smaller development organizations are not cited in scholarly databases, because they are published without the involvement of academic publishers. The advantage is that the documents are free, which is important for audiences in the Global South. The drawback is that these documents are more difficult to find by systematic searches. Their findability improves by referring to them in free, online reference managers, such as Mendeley. An alternative to Mendeley is Zotero. I use Zotero My Library to collect material and export a selection of key references, i.e. metadata and links, to Mendeley. This may sounds strange, but it works well for me. At least for now ;-).
A final note
To some the proposed method will no doubt sound a bit cumbersome. Yet, it could appeal to many of those working in research project and higher education settings. Students may use blog posts to keep track of progress during assignments. This allows teaching staff to monitor and assist them. The combination with a reference manager and other web 2.0 tools makes it all the more valuable.
P.S. Update 31/12/2012: An alternative method involves the use of webcitation.org, see e.g. this reference in one of my Mendeley groups.