Tuesday, December 8, 2009

404, A Cautionary Tale

Don't ever create an extensive list of hyperlinks on your website. Just don't do it. It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of cataloguing all the wonderful websites you find on your topic. Then you create your own website with a links page to these resources. And then--it falls apart. URLs change, websites go down, what was good becomes bad or redundant in the light of other new sites, and you have a mess on your hands.

Witness the unfortunate state of this University of Idaho site: Repositories of Primary Sources. It sounds so promising:

A listing of over 5000 websites describing holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources for the research scholar. All links have been tested for correctness and appropriateness.

Woohoo! A worldwide guide to all the websites for archives and special collections. This is exactly the kind of resource we need to keep track of all the other digital resources. So I eagerly navigated to the section for the Western United States and Canada and then to Washington and then to Central Washington University:

No problem. Lets try a different link. The East Benton County Historical Society? "Oops! This link appears to be broken." The Echoes of the Past Archive sounds interesting. "This domain is for sale. Please contact info@echoesarchive.com for more information." Nevermind, let's try my own Eastern Washington University--no, another 404 page. Of the first 15 links for Washington State, 11 are broken.

I do not mean to slam on the fine people at the University of Idaho, who obviously put a great deal of effort into creating this resource. No doubt they meant to maintain it, and no doubt more pressing matters have directed their attention elsewhere. This is just what happens to such endeavors.

So kids, never create extensive links pages. Or if you must, make them a wiki and leave a note asking users to fix anything they find that is broken.


Anonymous said...

This web page is your friend:


Benjamin Lukoff said...

Amen. (Does this make anyone else think of what Yahoo! used to look like when it was still a Stanford student project?)

However, this should also be a wake-up call to people who maintain Web sites — don't just change your URLs and eliminate pages. Create redirects, so fewer people get frustrated.

Eastern Washington University said...

We have a few college students online from college of University of Denver and we love your blog postings,so well add your rss or newsfeed for them,Thanks and please post us and leave a comment back and well link to you.Thanks Jen , Blog ManagerEastern Washington University

Larry Cebula said...

Thanks, Anonymous.

Benjamin: Good point about maintainers of websites needing to do redirects when changes are afoot!

qmackie said...

Yeah, UBC just redesigned their web site and broke all their links to faculty pages, with no referral pages left behind. I send them a friendly note saying I was just taking down all my links to UBC because I couldn't be bothered to rebuild them and of course I heard nothing back.

OK that's my little rant: UBC web developer people: you suck.

Tony said...

Some browsers *used* to check a whole list of links to see which ones were still valid. That feature was *way* too intelligent to keep I guess.

Once that still does that (so far as I know) is iCab (for Mac) at icab.de