​Google Chrome gets Wayback Machine extension: End to the pain of 404 errors?

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The Wayback Machine extension for Google Chrome offers an answer to non-functioning URLs.

Image: The Internet Archive

The Internet Archive has released a Wayback Machine extension for Chrome that will automatically take users to an archived copy when they hit a dead webpage.

Once installed on Chrome, whenever a link returns a 404 error message or ‘page not found’, the Wayback Machine extension will search the Wayback Machine web archives to see if an older version is available. If one is, users will see a notice offering the option to visit the archived copy.

Not much can be done to stop the growth of so-called ‘link rot’, or once-working URLs that no longer go anywhere, but as Mark Graham, co-founder of the Internet Archive, notes, the extension will help temper its effects.

“For the past 20 years, the Internet Archive has recorded and preserved webpages, and hundreds of billions of them are available via the Wayback Machine. This is good because we are learning the web is fragile and ephemeral,” Graham writes.

“The Wayback Machine Chrome extension is designed to help mitigate link rot and other common web breakdowns,” he added.

For those not familiar with the Wayback Machine, it’s a 20-year archive of webpages collected by Internet Archive, which aims to preserve online content that may disappear if a site closes or changes. The Wayback Machine currently hosts a 15-petabyte store of 273 billion webpages from over 361 million websites.

Researchers behind a 2013 Harvard study noted that link rot had become a severe problem in academia, where papers increasingly link to references on the web. It helped make information more accessible until the link no longer worked.

The study, which promoted a system of permanent links in academic work, found that 70 percent of links in the Harvard Law Review were broken. It also found that half of all links to Supreme Court opinions no longer worked.

According to the Internet Archive, the extension will detect error codes 404, 408, 410, 451, 500, 502, 503, 504, 509, 520, 521, 523, 524, 525, and 526.

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