Downside Of Permanent

title: The Downside of Permanent date: 2009-04-13 description: There’s been a lot of chatter lately about permalinks and URL shortening services. Let’s think about whether ‘permanent’ is always a good thing.

There’s been a lot of chatter lately about permalinks and URL shortening services. From what I’ve read, everyone seems to feel that content should never disappear and links should never break. While I appreciate the sentiment, I disagree.

available at the same URL for eternity, I think it’s perfectly healthy for the web to experience link rot. It’s in the very nature of things. In a forest, trees grow, but eventually, they die, fall down, and make room for new plants and trees to grow up in their place.

Much of the information we’re creating today is temporal. With technology or science, information that’s more than a year old is often outdated at best, and entirely inaccurate at worst. Maintaining that content and permalink is valuable, but if the content owner isn’t constantly updating to reflect the inaccuracies or point the reader to more current information, then it’s not the end of the world if that content disappears. Better content will replace it.

The discussion around URL shortening services is an important one. There’s nothing wrong with maintaining links and availability of relevant and accurate content. However, actively propping up outdated and inaccurate content isn’t always a good use of time or effort.

URL shortening services are what they are. They make it easier to share complex URLs. Any expectation beyond short-term convenience is setting yourself up for disappointment. If permanence is truly more important than convenience or length, we should be linking directly to the definitive resource identifier rather than a shortcut.

I’m not saying it’s always good or always bad, but we should take care to remember that just because the information exists doesn’t mean that its time hasn’t passed.