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A new plugin designed to prevent the creation of dead content links

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January 29, 2016

Attention site designers and webmasters: we've just learned that there's a new open source plugin available today that's designed to prevent the creation of so-called 'dead content' links.

Dubbed 'Amber' the new concept was devised by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and it provides what it calls a "persistent route" to information on the internet by automatically taking and retaining a snapshot of every page on a website and storing it on the same site's server.

In other words, it's a Wayback Machine for your own website. Or perhaps think of it as a mirror of your site with minimal fuss and overhead.

For whatever reason a URL should go dead at any time, rather than returning a 404 error page, the system should provide visitors with the relevant snapshot.

The snapshots are stored on the same server as the website but can be configured to save them on third-party systems as well or on archival servers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the project has been supported by the Internet Archive (Wayback Machine), Amazon Web Services, and Perma.cc (another online archiving service).

There are several reasons for dead content links-- websites are restructured or shifted to a new content management system and break all the previous URLs; articles get moved behind a firewall; people delete social media accounts or change their privacy settings; or links simply contain information that goes out of date (such as session info).

And highlighting the depth of the issue, a paper back in 2013 written by one of the instigators of the problem, Harvard academic Jonathan Zittrain, highlighted that about 49.3 percent of the links in the Supreme Court's legal decisions went nowhere.

Likewise over 100,000 current Wikipedia articles contained dead links or links to the wrong pages on outside sites.

There is also the risk of DDoS attacks on big storage providers or hosting companies taking down millions of webpages, and of course censorship where government or other entities limit or block specific URLs because of the content they contain.

Overall, the Amber system is available as various plugins for the two most popular CMSs out there: Wordpress and Drupal. It is also available as modules for Apache and Nginx.

The Berkman Center says that Amber is a work in progress and is asking for feedback through email or via GitHub.

Source: The Berkman Center.

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