BOSTON (05/15/2000) - Of all the interesting companies I saw at NetWorld+Interop 2000 in Las Vegas last week, one of the most compelling was a startup called LinkGuard, a U.K. company that is setting out to eradicate all broken links on the Web.
According to some estimates, 10 percent of Web hotlinks are dead ends today, returning the dreaded 404 error message. That's up from 7 percent a year ago and 5 percent two years back. While a number of companies offer products that enable Web operators to find bad outbound links or broken links within a given server, none have the ability to identify broken inbound links. That means if Popular Mechanics runs an item about your company's new gas grill and you unwittingly move the grill page, all those prospective buyers will simply get a 404 message.
LinkGuard will combat the problem by building a four-terabyte database of Web links and launch several services that use the database to find and fix bad links. Company founder and CEO Franck Jeannin says it takes 10 days for the company's software agents to index all Web links. While that is incredibly fast given the size of the task, in e-commerce terms it is still a long time to tolerate bad links. So the company will also try to get large Web sites to cooperate directly.
Providing they are successful at signing up Web players, this is how it will work: A user who hits a Yahoo Inc. link to a GeoCities page that is no longer at that address will be redirected to LinkGuard, which will look up the proper location, redirect the user and even go in and patch the Yahoo link. This Watchdog service was released last month but won't be promoted until LinkGuard completes its database in the next three months.
In the first quarter of next year, the company will also offer users a browser plug-in that will do much the same thing. When a 404 message is returned, the plug-in will intercept it and redirect the request to the LinkGuard database, which will redirect the request to the proper location and notify the Web server of the link problem. The plug-in will be free, and my guess is it will spread like wildfire. Who won't want this?
If the company has its way, within a few years bad links will simply be a thing of the past. And that's bloody amazing.
- John Dix
Editor in chief