The Web of Broken Links

I went to link to this today, because I thought it was hilarious and insightful and speaks to something within me as a frequent traveller: “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Sleeping Positions on a Plane” from The Washington Post – and since I found it especially perfect a post, I thought I’d put it here on my blog.

And then I got to thinking: I have a whole lot of links here… how many still live to this day?

It’s truly depressing to explore.

Many of those links that landed on personal sites are broken entirely; people don’t maintain their websites for decades, they move on and find new homes for their worlds, if any. You’re not always there to notice until it’s years too late, a site you read every day that someday stopped publishing and you didn’t realise.

And equally, on the sites that survive, the rubble of broken links litters their sites.

These ones were perhaps those hosted on long-lived entities like Blogspot, and somehow still remain, a once-populated site that no longer updates. A favourite blog to read for me, Tequila Mockingbird, published its last post 12 or so years ago, at the tail end of 2007, a post like any other that gave no idea that the author wouldn’t return.

If you try to go anywhere outwards from there, it’s just as likely as not to lead to a broken link. How would we ever piece the web back together? Do we need to default every 404 to fall back to a web archive search?

The impermanence of the web is perhaps as much a feature as a bug; the ability for these words to be removed from the web with a push of a button perhaps a blessing for some, history that is erasable in a way that doesn’t even leave a physical trail.

On the other hand, pity the poor historians and archaeologists of the future, finding a web of broken links that hinted at something more vast and interesting than they can ever grasp, like Fermat’s last theorem fitting in the margins of history but the original pages never found, simultaneously mundane and profound.

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