Yes, the Internet can forget you! A good part of the pages put online end up disappearing according to this study


Camille Coirault

May 24, 2024 at 9:47 a.m.

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  Even the web has a short memory © Stock-Asso / Shutterstock

Even the web has a short memory © Stock-Asso / Shutterstock

No, the Internet is not eternal! A recent study has highlighted the fact that a large proportion of web pages end up disappearing, leaving behind a large void.

In the all-digital age, we could easily think of the web as an imperishable archive, that nothing can erode. If there is a real strategic desire on the part of some companies to make web pages disappear by de-referencing them, Google for example, a completely different phenomenon is taking place discreetly.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center reveals a surprising reality: a fairly significant proportion of web pages disappear over time, leaving gaping holes in our collective digital memory.

“Link rot” or the silent erosion of the web

The phenomenon of “link rot” (which can be translated as “rotting of links”) was the subject of the Pew Research Center study. By analyzing a sample of nearly a million pages recorded by the non-profit organization Common Crawl, the research institute established a rather alarming finding. 38% of pages accessible in 2013 were no longer accessible in October 2023.

Even more worrying, a quarter of the pages that were online during this decade have now completely disappeared. A real erosion of information, affecting news sites, government sites and even the sacrosanct Wikipedia.

The study also reveals that 21% of government sites among a sample of 500,000 had at least one broken link. This figure rises to 23% for the news sites analyzed, or 2,063 in total. As for Wikipedia, 54% of the 50,000 English pages examined had at least one broken link in their “References” section. It’s “Error 404” party!

Chart showing the percentage of web pages from each year that were no longer accessible by October 2023 © Pew Research Center

Chart showing the percentage of web pages from each year that were no longer accessible by October 2023 © Pew Research Center

Chart showing the percentage of government web pages containing at least one broken link © Pew Research Center

Chart showing the percentage of government web pages containing at least one broken link © Pew Research Center

Social networks and content volatility

The study also looked at the sustainability of content shared on social networks, in particular that present on X.com. Between March 8 and April 27 of last year, Pew collected a rather large sample of 4.8 million tweets. Just a few weeks were enough for 18% of them to disappear from the public sphere on June 15.

If this volatility is worrying, it is because it is largely explained by human actions, and not technical failures. In 60% of cases, tweets disappeared due to user accounts being deleted or made private, or even suspended by the platform itself.

Another interesting fact: the linguistic disparities affecting these disappearances. Tweets shared in Turkish and Arabic were particularly affected by this phenomenon of ephemerality. With respectively 49% and 42% disappearance during the entire observation period, quite high figures. Accounts with default bios or profile pictures were also more likely to have their tweets disappear into thin air.

The information available on the web is therefore far from being permanent and deteriorates over time. Fortunately, web archive sites like Internet Archive or Common Crawl preserve some of the deleted pages in the form of copies. The fragility of digital memory is therefore a reality, but fortunately we have the means to guarantee better preservation of this data.

Source : PC Mag

Camille Coirault

Camille Coirault

Once I woke up in the boat arriving in Morrowind, I got my finger in the gear. Another of my fingers was also stuck between the pages of books by classic authors: Charles Baud...

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Once I woke up in the boat arriving in Morrowind, I got my finger in the gear. Another of my fingers was also stuck between the pages of books by classic authors: Charles Baudelaire, Émile Zola, Choderlos de Laclos or Victor Hugo to name a few. Twenty years later, a few thousand hours of playing, reading, and here I am! My heart always balances between my passion for tech, video games and my immeasurable love for Letters. Spoiler: I didn't choose and it's not likely to happen anytime soon.

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