I have just cleaned out our links database and if it is anything like a representative sample of the ESL industry on the web, things are looking grim. We had just under 3,000 links when I started and have just under 2,500 now. It's a particularly dull and time-consuming job and I do it about once a year, though I skipped last year as I was on a slowish connection. Even so, it's a lot of dead links and right across the board.
Schools, job sites, language exchanges, lessons by Skype, as well as personal sites and blogs had gone. There were many dead pages, often where a service was no longer available publicly, but the number of sites going down was scary. A school shutting down a website doesn't necessarily mean it has gone out of business, but it does suggest that, at best, the website didn't meet expectations, and as most links are submitted, these are sites that were actively being promoted. Depressingly, cheat sites seem to be immune to the recession- new ones get submitted pretty much every week (and rejected).
I wasn't surprised to see some job sites going as so many appeared in the last couple of years, but I was surprised by the number of online VOIP lessons sites that have gone as I'd thought this was an area that would do well. A fair few of the Web 2 start-ups that announced themselves with much fanfare have also gone. I tried a links database on an ESL site that hasn't been updated much for a few years to look further back and it has turned into a graveyard.
A few years ago, dead URLs were being snapped up by porn sites, but they seem to have abandoned ship - in fact this time there was only one link where a dead ESL school URL went to a webcam porn site - and the most common replacements were standard holding pages with Google ad links disguised as further searches.
Over half of the links ever submitted here have died and been removed in under a decade; even if people are more careful now, it's still a horrific rate of attrition. In, say, twenty years ESL on the web, and indeed the web in general, will be lucky to look like a Swiss cheese, with countless links pointing to error messages and holding pages, making it harder and harder to understand many of the texts that remain. Going through and clearing the database really brought home just what a problem link rot is. Wonderful as it is, the web is starting to age. It is very good at handling the present, but the past's turning into a mess.
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