By default, documents on the Web are written for eternity. If something is worth writing it is worth keeping. You never know when something stops being useful or who depends on it. As a consequence you should never break links. That part is well known.

But you should also write the contents in such a way that it is likely to survive changes in technology, because converting old documents may someday become too expensive. How to achieve that? Unless you can predict the future, the best rule of thumb is to stick to standards, including W3C's specifications and guidelines.

Indeed, despite Tim's pleas (see [TBL98]), it is unlikely that many current URLs will still work in 50 years, but the documents they referred to will still be there, and, if written in HTML, be readable as well.

That puts a responsibility on the developers of specifications. They have to always ask themselves whether the specs promote, or at least allow, Web resources to be made in such a way that they are likely to be still decipherable in 50 years time. Since developers are not much more capable of predicting the future than anybody else, they follow rules of thumb as well:

And what about those broken URLs? The traditional way in which information has been kept from oblivion is by providing redundant metadata inside the resource: a library can catalogue a book that they found again from the information on the title page. On the Web we can actually do a little better, since we can make the metadata (partially) machine-readable. It is thus a good idea to include standard fields in each document format for information that helps identify the resource: META and LINK elements in HTML, embedded RDF in SVG, @author/@version in Java, etc.

See also

Kahle, Brewster. "Preserving the Internet" in: Scientific American. Mar 1997. URL: http://www.sciam.com/0397issue/0397kahle.html
Nielsen, Jakob. Fighting linkrot. 14 Jun 1998. Alertbox column. URL: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/980614.html
Berners-Lee, Tim. Cool URIs don't change. 1998. W3C. URL: http://www.w3.org/Provider/Style/URI