Sunday, November 30, 2003

If you're reading this posting past March 11, 2004, we've beaten the odds. It seems that the average lifespan of a web page is only 100 days. For "information" such as this useless blog that may well be fine, but what about pages which contain important research or scientific information? As a reference tool, 100 days doesn't hold up very well.

That's the problem uncovered in this Washington Post article on the ephemeral nature of web research. The authors were working on a two-year research project (on another subject) when they realized that their footnotes (referring to online sources) were becoming outdated almost as quick as they could type them. They then decided to do another research project to find out just how serious this problem was.

It turns out old-fashioned footnotes referring to print sources aren't all that much more reliable than web links. A high percentage have typos or other issues that make finding the original source impossible, not to mention books going out of print. (Or, the ever-popular just making the reference up to look smart - but we won't go there).

Maybe the temporary nature of information in the web age is a fitting footnote to our lack of regard for history or depth in our public and political discourse. Troubled by facts that show you're on the wrong course? Just wait 100 days and those facts will disappear, as will any public interest in finding those facts.

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