Abstract / Description of output
Increasingly, scholarly articles contain URI references to “web at large” resources including project web sites, scholarly wikis, ontologies, online debates, presentations, blogs, and videos. Authors reference such resources to provide essential context for the research they report on. A reader who visits a web at large resource by following a URI reference in an article, some time after its publication, is led to believe that the resource’s content is representative of what the author originally referenced. However, due to the dynamic nature of the web, that may very well not be the case. We reuse a dataset from a previous study in which several authors of this paper were involved, and investigate to what extent the textual content of web at large resources referenced in a vast collection of Science, Technology, and Medicine (STM) articles published between 1997 and 2012 has remained stable since the publication of the referencing article. We do so in a two-step approach that relies on various well-established similarity measures to compare textual content. In a first step, we use 19 web archives to find snapshots of referenced web at large resources that have textual content that is representative of the state of the resource around the time of publication of the referencing paper. We find that representative snapshots exist for about 30% of all URI references. In a second step, we compare the textual content of representative snapshots with that of their live web counterparts. We find that for over 75% of references the content has drifted away from what it was when referenced. These results raise significant concerns regarding the long term integrity of the web-based scholarly record and call for the deployment of techniques to combat these problems.