Broken links - so much more than frustration

Are they trying to hide something? I’ve been led astray!
(Participant, Find & Connect Usability testing, 2012)

Broken links are all over the internet, but what few people realise is the powerful, negative, even traumatising effect they can have on vulnerable people. Fixing them is part of my job, and something that takes (quite a lot of) time.

When conducting usability testing for the Find & Connect web resource, an unforeseen finding was the increased impact that broken links within and from the web resource could have on Care Leavers. Several participants spoke of the emotions triggered by encountering broken links, meaning Find & Connect’s validity, trustworthiness, and usefulness to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants depends upon these links working.

The web resource contains thousands of internal and external links, many to archival and library systems, and every time a broken link report is run hundreds are broken. It is impossible to keep up with. So part of my role has become advocating for the solutions to broken links – permanent links, robust links, redirects and clean URLs – in the hope that more will start using them.

Example of a 404 error page
Example of a 404 error page

Most people would agree that broken links are frustrating and time-wasting – but clearly to date this has not been enough to motivate us to do better when we update or develop existing sites or develop new systems. Decisions continue to be made that lead to more broken links. Permalinks might exist but they are not shared with the public; clean URLs are created but they are unwieldy in length and redirects are not placed on updated links.

If there is no way to create a direct, permanent link to the content, the open access nature of the record is minimised, prompting the question, did the content mean anything in the first place? And when that content is a State based apology or information on how Care Leavers can access their records, this IS important. 

Broken links can cause knowledge to be more easily forgotten than found, and what we link to and what we reference includes content that should never be forgotten.