Fleeting Internet Content

Patrick McCorkle
3 min readMay 19, 2024


I firmly believe in the Internet’s ability to connect people and spread information. As a millennial who grew up as personal computers, social media and other technologies, I cannot imagine my life without them.

Think about how different day to day life was a generation or two ago. Instead of Googling any random topic, you had to look it up in an almanac or encyclopedia. Instead of writing a term paper on your personal laptop, you had to use a typewriter. Instead of video chatting with a friend who lives far away, you’d have to write them a letter or make an international call.

Still, there are downsides to this digital age. What happens when websites or links go away? How many of them go away?

My fan favorite Pew Research just released the report “When Online Content Disappears.” They found that “38% of webpages that existed in 2013 no longer exist.” In particular relevance to politics and current events, “23% of news webpages and 21% of government webpages contain at least one broken link.”

That’s slightly more than 1 out of 5. A lot of “digital decay,” as Pew refers to it, in only a decade.

If you’re around my age, you might have used Wikipedia for various assignments. I often started with Wikipedia, getting a basic, if incomplete, understanding of a topic than using its sources for more in depth knowledge.

Unfortunately, “The Free Encyclopedia” isn’t immune from the digital decay onslaught: “54% of Wikipedia pages contain at least one link in their ‘References’ section that points to a page that no longer exists.”

As time marches on, more of the Internet might disappear. However, it stands to reason that a fair amount of what disappears wasn’t super valuable anyway or was superseded by something else.

The question is, what can we do about “digital decay?”

Befitting my millennial nature, I don’t think the answer is to go back to printed sources. How many books and magazines went out of print back in the golden age of printed media? Plenty. Decay is inherent in any quest and storage of knowledge.

It falls onto the webpages themselves to regularly update their content or remove it if the source no longer exists. That’s a natural conclusion and as we become more accustomed to the Internet, I think businesses and organizations will create more mechanisms to preserve their data, especially if the public puts pressure on them.

Ultimately, Internet users need to use the best sources. While Wikipedia is the go to option for encyclopedias, there’s plenty of alternatives. All the heavy hitting encyclopedias of the printed era have websites and update their content regularly. The same goes for almost anything in almost any topic. You might have to search longer or pay for access, but the information exists online.

The lack of an ‘easy option’ may make people more greatly appreciate knowledge, information and those who gather it. Perhaps I’ve gotten spoiled by Wikipediaing or Googling everything. Adding a few more steps or barriers like the ones that existed in the pre-Internet world might be healthy.

For me, “digital decay” and the disappearance of websites is a further reminder than knowledge and information must always be safeguarded and maintained. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking that digitization will preserve knowledge and information automatically. We have to be the curators.

Are you ready to curate?



Patrick McCorkle

I am a young professional with keen interests in politics, history, foreign languages and the arts.