The Permaweb for Researchers

The traditional web has provided a wealth of new opportunities for all researchers and scientists. From accessing new populations for study recruitment, to distributing findings to far greater audiences, the web has been a catalyst for an explosion of knowledge discovery and exchange.

However, there are some significant problems with the methods we use to share, cite, and store web citations and online publications today. In turn, these flaws limit the reliability, replicability and future value of our own research.

Here, we will explore how to solve these problems by using the permaweb, specifically, with the Arweave web extension.

The Problem: Link rot and lost sources

When a link ‘breaks’ and no longer points to an active web page, this is known as ‘link rot’. When this happens you’ll often find a ‘404 error’ like the one below from the BBC, or if the whole domain is now dead, something that looks a little like this, depending on your browser.

404 errors like this can be a major problem for web citations

Link rot is surprisingly common, affecting even the most prestigious research institutions. In fact, 70% of all scholarly articles have a reference section containing link rot!

Although your research is timeless, your web citations will not be — after 20 years only 1.6% of web links remain functional.

The causes of link rot are varied, and can include an organisation moving to a new domain name, restructuring their site map, or deleting pages. We explore some of these reasons in more depth in this blog post.

As we all know, previous research is the cornerstone of future research. If the vast majority of citations and references rot over the coming years and decades, how will future generations of scientists and researchers ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’?

The Solution: Use permaweb links

Quite rightly, you might wonder — surely that link could rot too? Well, that’s correct, one day far into the future the domain might indeed become inaccessible — perhaps we stop hosting it for some reason, or perhaps your internet provider or even your government might restrict access to it. That’s okay though, anyone can set up a new ‘gateway’ domain and use the very same unique identifier (‘saYqBP_aEVTlpc62xaCOtWgmVKPdQe566Z5Wiz_kRFs’, in our example) to access the very same content. This means that these identifiers can outlive the Arweave project itself indefinitely! Ultimately, this gives the content a vastly longer lifespan and solves link rot not just for ourselves, but for our children and our grandchildren too!

The Problem: Content drift and changing web pages

75% of web links in scholarly writing suffer from content drift.

The reasons for unreliable, changing content on a web page are numerous, ranging from innocent updates provided to a breaking news article, to the more sinister phenomenon of stealth editing.

As with all scholarly research, your published work relies on accurate, reliable citations to give your studies transparency and legitimacy — the permaweb can help you with this.

The Solution: Permaweb snapshots of pages

Once a web page or PDF is perma-archived, it cannot be altered, edited, or otherwise tampered with. This provides extra confidence and reliability in your vital references. Whether the page was perma-archived yesterday or a year ago, you know with mathematical certainty that what you’re viewing is the same now as it was when archived.

The Problem: Maintaining backups

Yes, you can store lists of URLs from the traditional, impermanent web, but as we’ve demonstrated they will eventually suffer from link rot and content drift. Alternatively, I’m sure many people print physical copies and/or use your browsers built-in ‘Print to PDF’ function. These copies have to be stored somewhere, which can be very inconvenient (and insecure), especially with physical copies.

The Solution: Lots of automated, permanent backups

If you want to try out some perma-archiving for yourself and see how it can help your research, you can do so for free by following the steps in our very beginner-friendly guide right here.

So, in summary, the permaweb is a very powerful tool for any researcher. By providing truly permanent links and snapshots of vital web citations to backup your work forever, the permaweb allows future generations to learn from your important work.

If you want to try out some perma-archiving for yourself, you can do so for free by following the steps in our very beginner-friendly guide here.

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