One of the common problems in running websites is trying to keep your links up-to-date. Our travel site www.ThereArePlaces.com has over 33,000 links. Yes, most of them are internal, but we check all of them on a specific schedule. All too often we find broken links but they are a very small percentage of the total.
What’s our biggest link problem? The United States Government – that’s the culprit! More specifically the U.S. Department of State.
We provide links to the U.S. Embassy in every country that we cover. We generally include relevant addresses, telephone numbers and URLs, so that travelers can scan the Embassy’s web site in advance of their travel to find out if there are any local issues that might be of interest to them. Although it is rare for a traveler to need the help of the US Consul while on vacation, having the contact number is a good thing to note, just in case the unexpected happens.
We update our information about embassies and changes in visa requirements based on Consular Information sheets that the Department of State issues on a varying schedule. Updates to Consular Information sheets generally occur when there is a substantive change to some factual information about the country. In addition, most countries are updated by State on a six or twelve month schedule. We are on a list generator that automatically supplies us with update to the sheets when issued. At that point, we update our pages on travel information with any relevant changes and initiate a search for other information that may have changed.
It seems that U.S. embassies change their URL’s more frequently than one would assume. Often, the embassy URL in the new Consular Sheet is wrong (we test them and any email addresses provided).This then generates a circular search, since the information on the Department of State website is based on the —-Consular Information sheets. In turn, this leads to a Google search for the U.S. Embassy in____ that we follow until we find a working link. Other URL errors on these sheets are common.
Just to see what could be done about this, we emailed State and pointed out the URL error in a Consular sheet for country X. We gave them the working URL and suggested that they correct in on the most recent Consular Information sheet. After several days we received a reply that they did not have anyone available to confirm our correction and could not change the sheet. Don’t you just love governments?
How about an example? If you go the State Department’s travel section and look for the most recent Consular Information sheet for Malta http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_963.html, you will find a note that indicates that this information on the sheet is current as of today Mon Mar 05 22:38:18 2007. Next, on the actual Information sheet for Malta you will see the date the report was prepared.
The very first link is to the Department of States’ Background Notes on Malta, unfortunately, as of tonight, the link is broken.
If you go to the second paragraph (Entry and Exit Requirements) you will see a link to what is purported to be the Embassy of Malta. The link is as follows: http://foreign.gov.mt.ORG/ministry/missions/washington2.htm . It leads to a SedoParking.com spam page for Mt.org – “…your gateway to the best sites on the Internet for Montana!”
Further down the page the link to a site on Road Safety in Malta is broken (www.mta.co.mt).
The Consular Sheets are often a good information source for travelers, but all too often we have found that the links they contain don’t work for one reason or another. If you only publish them when something changes, or as part of an annual updating schedule, it is easy to see why links go bad. On the other hand, one would think that the U.S. Government could do better when it is attempting to inform its citizens.
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