Fighting Linkrot: A Reminder

Adam L. Penenberg observes that the major papers, notably the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal are not very influential in cyberspace as measured by Google search rankings. The reason: Their old articles quickly disappear behind subscriber-only archive walls. Penenberg notes this is unlikely to change soon:

It’s not like the Times reaps a whole lot from its Web archive. The archive accounts for only 2 to 3 percent of the profit for its digital division (which includes both the Times and Boston Globe websites, as well as all its electronic database lease deals). In fact, New York Times Digital earns most of its money from a pre-existing agreement with Lexis-Nexis, which brings in more than $20 million a year. This year, NYTD will report a profit of about $25 million. Without this Lexis-Nexis bounty, however, the color of the ink on its digital balance sheet would run decidedly more gray than black.

Which makes sense. I had always thought it rather unlikely that people would pay the outrageous fees the papers ask to see an old article one finds doing an archive search on their sites. But undermining their relationship with Lexis-Nexis would be foolish.

Kevin Aylward says this comes at a steep cost though: Alienating bloggers (who, incidentally, have very, very high Google rankings).

I avoid links to those three sources (and other mandatory registration sites) and much as possible because of their policies. Any time they want to improve their standing they can: change their registration requirements; make archive links durable and free; and encourage others to link to their content. Once they do that they may be able to beat the blogs.

As I’ve noted several times here though (echoing Kevin Drum, who started me on the bandwagon months ago), the New York Times has made a reasonable accomodation to bloggers: Providing the full text of their stories via Real Simple Syndication. They have promised that those links will not succumb to link rot, so bloggers can feel free to link the RSS version of NYT stories with confidence that, months later, the links will still work. My experience has been that they do. They don’t provide RSS links to all stories–those from the wire services, most notably, seem to be excluded. But it’s close enough. See my post from April for the current means for obtaining NYT RSS feeds (the instructions Drum provided in the link above are now defunct).

As to WaPo, Drum notes, “Once you link, the link seems to work forever. However, if you search for an article on their site, you can’t get free access to it after about two weeks.” That’s been my experience as well.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steven says:

    USAT stories seem to persist for a long time as well, as I come across them via Google fairly frequently.