This entry is about how link rot affects information resources on the worldwide web. Back in the early nineties when worldwide web suddenly gained traction on all the other more elegant attempts such as e-mail, NNTP based newsgroups, ftp and gopher to create and share information through networked computers some of us educators also got excited about the potential of using Web as a tool to improve teaching process. We created a web resource for teaching and learning Finite Element Method known as FEMUR original url http://femur.wpi.edu . It will not work now because Dr. Joseph Rencis moved to University of Arkansas so the whole resource moved with him at http://comp.uark.edu/~jjrencis/femur/
The resource is there but not as visible on google as it used to be when it was located at WPI.
Also, some of the links in the original femur resources were hard coded with server address http://femur.wpi.edu so when it moved to a different server some of the url simply do not work. The example is the unreachable stiffness learning applet located at the url http://tinyurl.com/3972u4
To get to this applet one has to first know the answer that they have to type in 3 for all the text area boxes and click ok that should take them to the learning applet but it it will not because of the link rot. It used to work but after the movement of the femur resource the url changed and one has to use the url to get to it.
Why am I writing this? This is to show that web developers needs to pay attention to information archiving. Web 1.0 was great. It helped in bringing obscure computer networking and information sharing to the non-computer savvy masses but it also created problems such as these.
Some of these type of problem can actually be avoided. Like this one could have been avoided if the web authors have used the relative web address instead of the full server address. It is a simple thing to do but you see thousand and thousand of web pages containing hard coded url that will not work after some time. Luckily some of these pages are archived at http://www.archive.org through Way back Machine or some of them are sitting in the Google cache.
Also, by avoiding the use of the frames altogether or using it more wisely as they are used in facebook frameworok. Frames can help in creating a fixed familiar interface where web pages load in a well defined area that may be considered as stage such as in the facebook pages where the top and left side of the screen always belongs to the user menu and every other information loads in the area defined by the frame. This way once somebody is lost after going through several urls they can always go back to familiar menu from the top or the left.
Frames have a nasty habit of hiding the url of the resource they are loading in the frame area. If someone wants to book mark the page he/she will not be able to get back to the same page becasue the frame is hiding the url of the resource frame was displaying. Luckily facebook creates a unique url for every page so even if the page is displayed within frame it can be book marked with any book mark utility for future reference. In this regards Facebook does stand out over its competition. There are so many these small innovations within facebook framework those at first appear almost trivial but hava a major impact on the usability and user experience with the program. It is the user experience in using the program determines if a program will succeed or fail.
This blog entry was written by using ZOHO writer from Zoho.com. I was impressed by the story of the company owner. The program is competing in the same space as Google docs. It has more features when it comes to editing. It even allows to post directly to the blog on wordpress.com. It could improve the text linking by auto sensing a url. I will hold my judgement and see how well it will compete with google docs, MS live etc. Knowing MS strategy where they will always give you more initially than the competition but once the user is hooked they start charging dearly. It simply the stragey to hook the customer than boil him like a frog slowly. They gave out MS DOS for free. They actively encouraged piracy when they wanted the customer base. They bundled office suite for free with Windows to kill the Lotus office suite. Once Word perfect was gone they started charging for MS Word. IE is still free because there is Firefox and Opera. The day these two will fold MS will charge $100 for IE. It is just good business practice I think people should learn from them how to kill the competition and wipe it out completely. It has always been either bury the competition by providing the product for free or buy the competition.
Actually MS business practices need a whole new post still it will not be complete so it is better to leave this topic alone.