URL decay in MEDLINE--a 4-year follow-up study

Bioinformatics. 2008 Jun 1;24(11):1381-5. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btn127. Epub 2008 Apr 15.


Motivation: Internet-based electronic resources, as given by Uniform Resource Locators (URLs), are being increasingly used in scientific publications but are also becoming inaccessible in a time-dependant manner, a phenomenon documented across disciplines. Initial reports brought attention to the problem, spawning methods of effectively preserving URL content while some journals adopted policies regarding URL publication and begun storing supplementary information on journal websites. Thus, a reexamination of URL growth and decay in the literature is merited to see if the problem has grown or been mitigated by any of these changes.

Results: After the 2003 study, three follow-up studies were conducted in 2004, 2005 and 2007. Unfortunately, no significant change was found in the rate of URL decay among any of the studies. However, only 5% of URLs cited more than twice have decayed versus 20% of URLs cited once or twice. The most common types of lost content were computer programs (43%), followed by scholarly content (38%) and databases (19%). Compared to URLs still available, no lost content type was significantly over- or underrepresented. Searching for 30 of these websites using Google, 11 (37%) were found relocated to different URLs.

Conclusions: URL decay continues unabated, but URLs published by organizations tend to be more stable. Repeated citation of URLs suggests calculation of an electronic impact factor (eIF) would be an objective, quantitative way to measure the impact of Internet-based resources on scientific research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bibliometrics
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Information Dissemination*
  • Information Storage and Retrieval / statistics & numerical data*
  • Information Storage and Retrieval / trends*
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Internet / trends*
  • MEDLINE / statistics & numerical data*
  • MEDLINE / trends*
  • Time Factors