Badge Request for fixing dead-links: Pipefitter?

There are numerous older questions with links that are now 404. It's a significant user-experience issue( and not as simple to fix as typos and style-issues).

Wouldn't it merit a badge if a user fixed the links(but each approved link-fix is pending moderator approval)?

I think 25 fixed links would merit a Bronze badge.

Or perhaps a different variation on it, I think it's also fine.

What about the name Pipefitter ?

Related : Dead link hunter-killer

Does an (old) answer that contains only a dead link deserve a downvote?

Crawling for answers with bad links?

• Hmm... Sounds like an nice idea, but added yet another thing for the moderators to handle is not a good idea.... – ɥʇǝS Mar 31 '13 at 0:40
• I think this is a good idea, provided there is a way of validating the fixed link (we need to ensure the badge isn't easily gamed). – slugster Mar 31 '13 at 0:41
• @slugster - Agreed, yes - that would be an counter-point. Maybe if you check the file-path like if the site was www.tech.com/wish/bus/Networking.aspx and it changed to www.tech.com/wish/cal/admin/Networking.aspx - just check that the domain-name and file-name are equal? – Adel Mar 31 '13 at 0:44
• @Adel Yes it adds gamifacation, but we really, really don't want to put more on the mods plate. It should be easy to find out whether a link is dead or not by the server's response though. – ɥʇǝS Mar 31 '13 at 0:54
• Merely replacing a dead link with a non-dead one doesn't mean that the link is fixed. The new link could point to anything, so it'd be difficult to automatically determine that the fix is a good one. Also, fixing 25 links seems like a pretty low bar for a silver badge. – Caleb Mar 31 '13 at 0:56
• @Caleb - Hmm, let me make that 50 links then. thanks! fifty seems right, since that would certainly take some back-&-forth checking. Or do you say 100 links?? I'm leanin' toward 100 now – Adel Mar 31 '13 at 0:58
• I'm not sure whether I agree with the idea at all, since I think the edit and review systems already take care of this to a degree, but in order for the idea to by viable at all, validations for these really shouldn't go through mods. I would recommend figuring out a community validation method. – Ben Lee Mar 31 '13 at 1:02
• Why is editing a link for correctness any different from editing any other aspect of a post for correctness? We don't have (nor do we need) a Marketing 101 badge for improving titles, a Grammarian badge for correcting grammar, or a Graffitti badge for tagging posts, and there are certainly "numerous older questions" that could use some help in those categories. Are bad links in old questions a big enough problem that we need to focus special attention there, or can the editing badges like Strunk & White and Copy Editor enough incentive? – Caleb Mar 31 '13 at 1:21
• Definitely in favour of this. Link updating is one of the best ways to keep content valid. With ageing posts on many lower volume topics now containing numerous dead links (seen at least 2 dozen in the last 24 hours myself) it would be great to see encouragement specifically on this point. Outdated links are poison to user experience. "This looks great" <click> "oh damn, 404ed, oh well" <sigh>. This shouldn't happen! – Techdragon Mar 31 '13 at 2:08
• @Caleb Broken links are a lot bigger of a deal than what you make it out to be... They really lower the quality of whatever they are posted in. – ɥʇǝS Mar 31 '13 at 2:39
• @Caleb - I think it's because the link often substantiates the rest of the answer, and if it's a broken link in an otherwise brief answer, it is a bad user experience. As for Are bad links in old questions a big enough problem that we need to focus special attention there - I believe so, and it is likely to be a recurring issue in the future. – Adel Mar 31 '13 at 4:25
• While broken links may be a problem, I agree with @Caleb that these are perfectly well covered by the existing Strunk & White and Copy Editor badges for editing posts. Creating any sort of automated system for this is absurd, and community evaluation for a badge is just out of the question in my opinion. There's just no practical way to achieve this. – animuson Mar 31 '13 at 4:37
• @Adel it's also a bad answer and I wouldn't upvote. – djechlin Mar 31 '13 at 4:39
• @djechlin - Agreed! – Adel Mar 31 '13 at 4:42
• @Caleb - You know, a Marketing Guru/marketeer badge would be awesome for improving titles. – Adel Apr 5 '13 at 17:04

2 Answers

Why encourage manual fixes when they can be done automatically?

Instead of offering a badge to people who manually fix broken links (a job that will probably have to be repeated over time as the "fixed" link itself becomes invalid), perhaps the task can be performed automatically. Broken links could be replaced with a link to the same page as stored in the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Or, perhaps it would be better to mark the link as broken and add a button to the same page as stored in the Wayback Machine.

Notify authors when their links break.

If linking to an archived version of the page isn't reasonable, it should at least be possible to notify authors that their question or answer contains a broken link. The author is in the best position to fix the link, find a reasonable alternative, or edit the post so that the link isn't needed. Being notified of broken links could also provide a disincentive to rely too heavily on links in the first place.

• Eh. I think a site's 404 page is often going to be more helpful than a Wayback auto-redirect. I don't recall the UX being that great anyway, and it certainly fails with image-intensive answers. I suspect there are other problems too... my biggest evidence of this is that lifehacker hasn't shoved a "wayback machine" browser plugin in my face yet (because this could totally be browser-level). In any case, I don't think it's good UX to take this power away from the user. Especially if they are not familiar with this site and are like "why am I here now." – djechlin Mar 31 '13 at 4:50
• Doing this automatically would indeed be aweesome, but it's unclear how to do so.. but at least automatically list questions with dead-links , thats a start@! – Adel Mar 31 '13 at 5:19
• @djechlin That's why I suggested marking the link as broken and providing a button or other means to get to the Wayback Machine's version of the page. Certainly the user should be informed, but I don't see how giving them a way to see what used to be at the link in question isn't helpful. Another option would be for SE to archive pages that people link to, but I'm sure that's a whole other can of worms. – Caleb Mar 31 '13 at 6:09
• @Caleb - What if there was an easy way to screenshot the linked page automatically ? But that would be a moderator action - a way to preserve high-quality answers? it does seem a bit complex though.. – Adel Mar 31 '13 at 16:29

The biggest problem with this badge is that this is a really boring use of time that doesn't really improve SO that much and doesn't really lead to our users undergoing much growth as software developers. Creating a badge to incentivize something is not a magic way to produce user-hours. If it increases the number of hours our users put into the site, they should be quality hours so users enjoy using SO and get something out of it, neither of which will really be the case here. And if it detracts from other tasks, like answering questions or editing answers, it should be a better use of time, which I think is not the case with fixing broken links.

Our editors' time is better spent maintaining active posts than goose-chasing down broken links to obscure answers that are never read. It's much like maintaining a legacy code base: you don't really want to spend ROI-less hours doing "cleanup."

Furthermore, bear in mind that old answers are to some extent self-maintaining. An answer with a dead link that is generating many views will eventually be flagged as having a dead link or edited, so there is a natural cap on how much attention an old answer can get while in a (conspicuously) invalid state.

Now that all being said, if we do decide this is a problem we want to address, a review queue is a better approach than a badge. Many broken links have bad HTTP requests that an offline task can scrape and queue up for review. This is far preferable to users coming up with hacky ways to goosechase broken links; furthermore, a queue can order by, say, question views and better prioritize edit time. Per Caleb's comment I think this ought to contribute to copy editor, because I still don't think this is a more worthwhile task than other forms of editing.

• Great points djechlin, thanks very much. – Adel Mar 31 '13 at 4:38
• At one point in time, there was a Broken Links review queue. They experimented with it. Apparently it didn't go so well. – animuson Mar 31 '13 at 4:39
• What if we call it a bronze badge, and only after 5 edits? That would make it less likely to take away valuable time? – Adel Mar 31 '13 at 5:18
• @Adel won't it just get less accomplished then? – djechlin Mar 31 '13 at 5:21
• @djechlin - Well, yes but it's a compromise to prevent anyone qualified to do better tasks from spending too much time on this one. Bec. I agree now that fixing links isn't exactly a top-priority.. but it's still worthwhile to do.. – Adel Mar 31 '13 at 5:23