Why Bare URLs are a problem

A Bare URL. What’s that you may ask?

A naked Uniform Resource Locator, running rampant on the Web? Exposed for all to see?
I discovered the term ‘bare URL’ today while I was sourcing some information from Wikipedia for a blog post I haven’t written yet. The article I was looking at had the following as a header in the References list at the end of the article;

This article uses bare URLs in its references. Please use proper citations containing each referenced work’s title, author, date, and source, so that the article remains verifiable in the future.

Despite staff constantly reinforcing the message with students that they need to construct proper bibliographies, I still see plenty of kids creating them with just the bare url and no other detail about the site they sourced their information from. I think Wikipedia have provided me with some terminology and explanations I can use with the students that will help them understand the importance of a citation using full details.

Link rot (or linkrot) is an informal term for the process by which, either on individual websites or the Internet in general, increasing numbers of links point to web pages, servers or other resources that have become permanently unavailable. The phrase also describes the effects of failing to update out-of-date web pages that clutter search engine results. A link that doesn’t work anymore is called a broken link, dead link or dangling link.

It’s this kind of explanation that I find helpful to use with students when trying to explain the necessity behind doing things that they they find no relevance for  – example in point, proper citation details in bibliographies. If you can provide a reasonable explanation for doing something, I find kids are more likely to do it without constant questioning.

Maybe you’ve known the terms ‘bare url‘ and  ‘link rot‘ for some time, but they’re new to me and I’ve been a pretty active web user over the past few years. (and I’m a Teacher-Librarian and probably should have been up with this terminology some time ago!) I use Wikipedia fairly regularly, and am usually pretty impressed with the quality of the articles and the citation details that enable you to track where the Wikipedians have sourced their data. I’m also impressed with the standards I’ve noticed being applied to pages where there is some dispute as to the validity of the information on the page. Recently I was looking up information about Sharia Law, and came across this on the Wikipedia page for Sharia;

This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page.

I’d recommend taking a read of the ‘About page‘ of Wikipedia and familiarising yourself with some details about how the site works. There’s no doubt our students are using Wikipedia so we should be informing them about the workings of the site, both the positives and negatives, and some of the controls that exist to try and ensure that the information is authentic and credible.

In the meantime, I’m in command of some knowledge that will help me help students to understand the importance of accurate and detailed citations of the sources they use.  In other words, why a bare URL is a no no if you want to avoid the perils of link rot!

8 Replies to “Why Bare URLs are a problem”

  1. I’m glad that you allow wikipedia to be used. The librarian at my son’s high school convinced the faculty from using wikipedia. Rather than explaining how wikipedia is created, the pro’s and con’s of using wikipedia, they just banned it as “bad”.

    At the university level, I encourage my students to use it for general background and a first pass-through to find relevant supporting information, but not as a primary source.

    1. I think it’s a responsibility we have as educators to identify the sites students are using and teach them the pluses and minuses of them. Thanks for letting me know the approach you are taking at a University level; it’s the same one I’m taking at the High School level. We need our students to be familiar with the climate they are likely to encounter at tertiary institutions so that they can make a smooth transition.

      Nice to hear from you again Virginia. : )

  2. Great post. Sites, especially wikis require and assume readers have internalised, specialist knowledge – just like other more traditional texts. For example, to read a maths text, the reader has to have internal knowledge to make sense of it. Wikis are no different, and sadly as teacher plow on with their quaint view of literacy, and systems build lists around language (noun, pronoun, recount, exposition) – the planet is doing something else.

    It is critical for students to know these terms. It is stupid to think Google will compensate for a lack of literacy – or that emerging semantic tools can be used for enquiry, collaboration and cooperation without students being able to find and share nebulous content in ways others can – read.

    The days of narrowly defined academic literacy have ended whether the objectors like it or not. Information fluency requires a deep understanding of how knowledge is constructed and negoatiated as you say – not simply being able to find it. I think that the semantic era, will simply exclude an entire generation, unless teachers do what your doing.

    I doubt they will, as school is increasingly a historical role play.

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