Everything suffers the opposite of linkrot: links proliferate!
The fate of links on E2 is certainly different than in other parts of the web. The «regular» link rot still happens, as the targets of external links change addresses, or simply die.
But inner links are a bit different.
The complete anatomy of an Everything2 link is as follows:
- The text of the link;
- The target of the link;
- The node or nodeshell of the target; and
- The writeups contained in the node.
I make this distinction without any claim to completeness, but out of my observation of these elements being different and serving sometimes complementary purposes.
Before continuing, I must answer the question no one has asked: why point out the obvious? Why restate the observations already cemented by decades of HTML usage?
Because—dear reader—the regular interaction of link rot stops here. A regular non-E2 link will rot as soon as the target moves or becomes unreachable. Arguably, the link is also severed if the origin point disappears, but that is regularly not considered as «link rot».
The way links exist in E2 means the information is linked in different ways, and at different levels. As such, the phenomenon of «link rot» is not as simple, and _ing’s statement is more nuanced than it seems. The first two elements are commonplace to the internet, but the second two not so much, let’s see them in order.
First of all there’s the text that a browser will show as a link.1 The most obvious case use of this part is that the text will conjure by itself an image or an idea that might seduce the reader into clicking.
Wikipedia makes good use of this, in the general form of its opening blurbs, that generally follow the structure:
This thing is a particular form of a general thing.
…where «general thing» is, well, the general category that contains «this thing» and should lead the interested reader into the article discussing «general thing». There’s no need for deeper communication here, since the link text indicates precisely where it’s pointing at.
The business end of the link, what makes it different from a merely underlined word.
Of course, thanks to the old
href attribute of links, one can write one thing and point it at something else. In the regular usage on the internet, this means one can have a layer of separation between readable text like
article on Wikipedia and the actual URL, more suited for browsers and other software.
So what’s the difference here? One of the best ideas on E2 was that one need not write the whole URL but just a human-readable string as a target. This immediately lends itself to different kind of link-writing and link-reading. A layer of commentary can be subtly hid from the casual reader, yet still available if one so desires: I can write
Andy and link to
The fools who dream, or write
head honcho linking to
Unlike other places, this layer can exist even if the «target» doesn’t exist. The para-text is a small secret put by the author and only sometimes actually read, whether by laziness or ignorance. But the link to «something else» exists in the form of a link, instead of marginalia and that alone makes links different on e2 than in plain HTML.
Target node or nodeshell
A node on E2 is easy to visualize as its namesake in mathematics: a single point in a network. Nodes may or may not have writeups inside, those that don’t are known as nodeshells.
Now, as established before, an E2 link can exist in a meaningful way without the «target» existing at all, merely as a commentary layer parallel to the main text. This means that the existence of a node/shell is not necessary in a link, and thus is another nontrivial layer in the link ecosystem.
A node/shell exists only if someone creates it, the mere act of linking to a phrase doesn’t create the space. Conversely, a nodeshell can be created ex nihilo without any link pointing or prompting it.
Here we see a fundamental question that might not have a single, well-defined answer: why are node/shells created? My own answers are:
- As a shrine to witty phrases or verbal imagery,
- As a prompt for others to find and write about,
- As a reminder to myself to write on a particular topic,
- As a cairn, landmark, or memorial,
- Some of the above,
- All of the above.
It’s possible to imagine other people having similar reasons for creating node/shells and while the actual reasons might be different, there’s a few common threads among them all: a particular desire to establish something, to resist the passage of time and the fleeting nature of the catbox. Node/shell creation is a deliberate act, and as such carries some reason behind it, even if that reason is «created by accident».
Traditionally, the «target» of a link is a particular page. Naively, one could think that a single writeup is the only target of an E2 link, but as we’ve seen the link exists on several levels. Moreover, even if an E2 link points to an existing page, there’s a difference between linking to a node and to a single writeup.
The first of these differences lies in whether one is referring to the node as a whole—containing many individual writeups and consequently many points of views—or to a particular one, to single it out. Even if the node has only one writeup, there’s a difference in intent between talking about a node in general and a writeup in particular (id est I could talk about «I must use the daylight to keep looking and the nights to write» being a great piece, or point out specifically how etouffee salvaged diamonds among the rubble that I left on June 17, 2020)
The other difference lies in the permanence of node/shells and writeups: the former are much more resistant to deletion and virtually immune to Asamothing.2 Thus, linking to a writeup is much more susceptible to link rot in the traditional sense, but still different: the link to a removed writeup will still point to a nodeshell, creating a memory backup of sorts (signs of something that used to be there)
Thus, links to individual writeups can have added intentionality, and/or added resilience to rot. This doesn’t happen in most other places on the internet.
So, how exactly do E2 links work?
It’s obvious that regular rot doesn’t really happen on E2, in the sense that a single link may point to different things, at different discourse levels, at the same time.
It’s also evident that whenever an E2 link’s «target» becomes unreachable, the end result is different from other places on the internet. Traces exist without the need of an external memory3 like the broken pieces of a vase exist as witness of an accident, a fight, or an unseen rock in the road.
Then, exactly what happens in E2?
Links do proliferate, but they also die. Their death is different than in other parts of the web. How to describe them?
I posit the term «link dessication» for E2, because it leaves visible remains, like the dead wood of an old tree. Link on E2 proliferate, but that doesn’t mean they all survive and thrive.
E2 is unique in this aspect. Let’s keep it for the sake of future readers and writers.
Please don’t Asamoth.
2021-06-16: Prompted by Auspice and Clockmaker to post this, overcoming my own feeling of this not being good enough for E2. The emptiness of arguments and lack of appropriate denouement are mine, and not theirs.
Yes, it’s possible to use whitespace and/or zero-width characters to render an «invisible» link. No points for originality there.
Merely in the sense that nodes/shell deletion is a godly power, but of course nodes can be removed from Everything. I guess that there’s some things that the gods would frown upon even as a node title, and I won’t be the one to test this hypothesis.
Of course, places like the Internet Archive may have mirrors of things that no longer exist in their original form, but their existence doesn’t invalidate the concept of link rot, and doesn’t invalidate the concept I’m talking about.