Measuring Bitrot at The Well.com
TheWell.com is a pioneering San Francisco-based online community that has been churning away for twenty years. Community activities consist mainly of what the Well calls "conferences," many of which are only accessible to community members. Still, the Well encourages its community to build Member Home Pages, and so I decided to survey them for signs of bitrot. How many of these pages were still active? How many completely broken? How many served merely as placeholders or redirectional pages to other sites?
Here's what I found: out of 236 home page locations maintained by the well, 27 of them (11.4 percent) were completely broken (in other words, missing an active index page). 26 of them (11 percent) had no active content and merely pointed to other sites now occupied by the author's content. Another 4 (1.7 percent) showed obvious signs of not being updated in more than three years, and 5 (2.1 percent) contained "under construction" indicators.
People often ask me to assess the percentage of Web pages that are abandoned or defunct. I often offer the figure of 10 percent, because it accords with my anecdotal findings. Unless someone can point out to me why this sample of pages at TheWell.com is not representative of the state of bitrot in the general population of Web pages, I will stick to this estimate.