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.