link rot

Not a fresh expression for me, but an entertaining metaphor, caught in yesterday’s NYT, in “In Supreme Court Opinions, Web Links to Nowhere” by Adam Liptak:

Supreme Court opinions have come down with a bad case of link rot. According to a new study, 49 percent of the hyperlinks in Supreme Court decisions no longer work.

… The modern Supreme Court opinion is increasingly built on sand.

Hyperlinks are a huge and welcome convenience, of course, said Jonathan Zittrain, who teaches law and computer science at Harvard and who prepared the study with Kendra Albert, a law student there. “Things are readily accessible,” he said, “until they aren’t.”

What is lost, Professor Zittrain said, can be crucial. “Often the footnotes and citations,” he said, “are where the action is.”

For most of the Supreme Court’s history, its citations have been to static, permanent sources, typically books. Those citations allowed lawyers and scholars to find, understand and assess the court’s evidence and reasoning.

Since 1996, though, justices have cited materials found on the Internet 555 times, the study found. Those citations are very often ephemeral.

Wikipedia on link rot:

Link rot (or linkrot), also known as link death or link breaking, is an informal term for the process by which hyperlinks (either on individual websites or the Internet in general) point to web pages, servers or other resources that have become permanently unavailable. The phrase also describes the effects of failing to update out-of-date web pages that clutter search engine results. A link that does not work any more is called a broken link, dead link or dangling link.

Link rot is a general annoyance, but in some cases, like legal scholarship, it’s very serious indeed.

 

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