The Problem With Link Rot


I started Now I Know in June of 2010, which is a long time ago — to give some perspective (and I shouldn’t do this, because I’ll feel old) — if you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, only three of the 30 movies so far had been released by that time. I mention this because of a note I received this week from reader Tracy R., who told me that they fell down a Now I Know rabbit hole — and ended up somewhere very unexpected (and definitely unintentional on my part!). Tracy clicked one of the “From the Archives” links at the bottom of my regular Monday through Thursday emails and kept on reading, finding another link to click on at some point or another. That link was supposed to take the reader to a cool website I had found way back in the day, but Tracy was in for a surprise: whoever ran that cool website no longer did, and worse, they let the domain expire.

Instead of seeing something cool, Tracy was shown something that, let’s say, was not appropriate for all audiences. (Thankfully, the page was just text, no images. And no, I’m not sharing a link.)


Tracy is the victim of something called “link rot,” which as Wikipedia summarizes, “is the phenomenon of hyperlinks tending over time to cease to point to their originally targeted file, web page, or server.” It’s very common but usually frustrating but not harmful, as in most cases the page has vanished completely and hasn’t been replaced by anything whatsoever. In this case, well, let’s just say that the bait-and-switch kind of link rot is, thankfully, rare. But it happens. When I re-share an older story, I typically spend a few minutes updating the links to make sure that doesn’t happen, but if you go too far down the rabbit hole, well, you’ll never quite know what you find.

That said, here’s a trick: and specifically, the Wayback Machine. Put most website URLs into the box and you’re likely to find a frozen-in-time version of the page. If the webpage has a lot of images, videos, or interactivity, there’s a very good chance those won’t still be accessible. But the text should be there. I use the Wayback Machine all the time — at least a couple of times per week — and consider it one of the Internet’s hidden gems. I hope you find it valuable, too!

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday:  The Radio Station for People Who are Blind: I mention the Be My Eyes app in the bonus item on this one, and reader Kiel W. wrote in to tell me that they already recevied a help request through it and were able to assist! As Kiel writes, “I was able to help a woman in Maryland sort plates and sugar packets in her kitchen.  It was so cool and amazing to be able to help someone in need.” Awesome!

TuesdayThe Man Who Did Well By Himself: The title is a pun, and not a great one.

Wednesday: The Science Behind the Slogan: Morton Salt has the brand tagline “When It Rains, It Pours” which seems to be backward (and if it weren’t backward, it’d be a tautology). But the tagline makes sense — because “pours” isn’t a reference to pouring rain. 

ThursdayWhy This Reindeer Looks Like It Has a Lightsaber Hat: I realized after sending this that I didn’t make a single lightsaber or Star Wars joke in the whole story, despite doing so in the headline. 

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend:

1) “The DIY Scientist, the Olympian, and the Mutated Gene” (ProPublica, 31 minutes, January 2016.)  A woman has a rare disease and her doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with her — so she diagnoses herself. Thank you to reader Leslie W. for sharing this story!

2) “How a magician-mathematician revealed a casino loophole” (BBC, 9 minutes, October 2022). Casino loopholes! Magic! Math! What could go wrong?

3) “The Thinking Man’s Guide to Hitting a Moose” (Outside Magazine, 6 minutes, October 2021). I found this while doing some research into yesterday’s email about reindeer and car accidents. It’s a good capstone for that article, so, enjoy!

Have a great weekend!