Cool URIs Don't Change

Cool URIs Don't Change

How much value gets lost to broken links?

, the inventor of the Web wrote a memo. Its title, infamous in some circles, was Cool URIs Don't Change. Its message was simple: there is no excuse for broken links, at least within the confines of a given website. Two decades on, this problem has still not been solved—or perhaps more accurately, the problem has been solved, it's just that the solution is not evenly distributed.

Origin Story

The problem of broken links has been in my crosshairs ever since I first encountered Sir Tim's memo. The average lifespan of a URL is something like 100 days. Wouldn't it be an achievement to be able to claim a 404-free website? I have incorporated the principle on several projects dating back to about 2008, including this very website. Existing work from various sources includes:

The Program

Making unbreakable links requires treating URIs themselves like first-class content—making special provisions to store and manage them. Deploying this technique is at least as big a design problem—and an organizational problem—as it is a technical one:

  1. First, somebody has to care, and caring about unbreaking links has to be somebody's official responsibility—that is to say content governance.
  2. Next, development processes have to be changed—in my anticipation only slightly—to accommodate the policy.
  3. Finally, the technical infrastructure needs to be modified, which can be a small job or a prohibitive one, depending on the particular products in use.

The program, therefore, is to define a set of guidelines your organization can follow, to achieve archive-grade reliability in your information resources, such that your users will never again trip on a 404: