#9. Searching for Old Web Pages
Websites change, update, and expire. Authors will often cite to pages without thinking about what happens when those URLs change, making their arguments weaker without the evidence to support them. This is known as “link rot.” The Harvard Law Review Forum published a study on link rot and found that: “Over 50% of cited links in Supreme Court opinions no longer point to the intended page. Roughly 70% of cited links in academic legal journals and 20% of all science, technology and medicine articles suffer from link rot.” (127 Harv. L. Rev. F. 176)
What do you do if you encounter a dreaded “404 Page Not Found” notice? You need a special, archival, powerful search engine. Enter the Wayback Machine. Archive.org’s Wayback Machine has to be one of the greatest innovations and tools on the Internet. Although they don’t archive every web page, only about 377 billion, there is enough that you should know how to use it. I’ve found documents there that had been removed from current versions of web sites, or URLs that have been completely eliminated.
The Wayback Machine is great for finding old government pages and documents so you can see how policies have changed from one administration to the next. They’ll often have old press releases that a company has removed from their current website. You can find URLs cited in reports that have since been eliminated completely from the original sites. It’s also a fun way to see what was on the front page of the Washington Post or CNN or your favorite site wayback in time. (See what I did there?)
But it’s not just web pages! Archive.org has video and sound recordings, images, full text e-books, and software.
Do you have a page that you want to see preserved just the way it is? Perhaps you want to save a blog post that will eventually scroll off the front page of your favorite site. You can add it to the Archive.com collection in a simple step. Save your citations and publish your article with the knowledge that the pages you cite to today will be available to your readers tomorrow or next month or in ten years. Archive.org’s Save Page Now tool is free.
Perma.cc is another fantastic tool for preserving web pages. Originally created to help law students, professors, judges and lawyers preserve the web pages they cite in their articles, decisions, and briefs it is now available to anyone. Free for academics and judicial offices, the service is even recommended in the Bluebook as an authoritative way to archive important references and citations.
Good luck with your research and have fun in the rabbit hole you’ve opened!
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