We’ve hit on a problem that can use some more opinions. You guys have been great in the past (See: Footnotes vs. Endnotes).
One goal we have is to make the book more useful. In the original edition I tried hard to support claims with references, and above all, provide ways for readers to continue on the paths the book opens for readers. But the web, and it’s constantly changing landscape, makes this tricky.
Since 2007 at least 15% of the URLs in the book are broken: pure 404s (Thanks to Piotr, Theo and Allison, my URL Overlords, this should definitely be fixed in the paperback) . Another bunch of pages have simply changed or been rewritten, making the reference less applicable.
In doing my research I leaned more heavily on books and journals, but in writing/footnoting the book I leaned towards web sources since the odds of someone actually bothering to type in a URL seemed much higher than them digging up an obscure journal or tome. I’d rather have references people used, then once they are just impressed by. But this seems to have had disappointing side effects.
So here are the options I’ve heard so far:
- Do not include ANY URLs in books. Refer to books and journals only.
- Refer to URLs, but simultaneously post the list online so they can be updated at any time (and mention this clearly in the book). The book may get crusty, but readers are always offered an updated list of references.
- Use a bit.ly type link converter – If raw URLs are not used, the links in books will never be crusty – they can always be redirected to something useful. This is cool, but the problem is in the book will be filled with mystery references – I can’t necessarily explain in the book what is being linked to. Even in the 2007 edition, the footnote has value if never used just to see what the source is (What university or website is it from?) even if you don’t ever look it up. I could include the original reference, and if it’s URL dies, redirect to a new page that at least explains what the old reference was.
- Is there another option?
Have you seen other approaches in books you’ve read or purchased? Or can think one up?
I’d love for the paperback edition to be as smart and useful as possible in handling this. Let me know what you think. Thanks.