There is no doubt that the many social bookmarking tools that exist often offer great networking services and ways you can monitor areas of interest effectively. But you can run into problems if you rely on a social bookmarking site as a file to store away your online sources. If you are working on a sensitive story that relies on web-sourced evidence then that can evaporate if the site owner pulls the page, alters the relevant text or changes an image.
I worked for years on the BMJ Best Treatments project and out-of-date links to academic sources and public-targeted government advice were a continual headache. One study has found that 13% of internet references in scholarly articles become inactive after only 27 months. But perhaps an even bigger problem is when the link stays intact but the content changes. If your story depends on a particular source and it changes then where do you turn? Does your publication have a policy on this?
Some social bookmarking sites offer a partial solution. Furl.net lets you save the entire page to Furl’s servers where you can access an exact copy of the page without going to the source URL. I always use Furl when I’m working on anything even remotely sensitive. Another tool – WebCite – allows you to copy web pages and store them remotely. The difference here is that WebCite gives you a way of citing a source permanently. When you use WebCite in a published document you cite the original source URL and a WebCite reference and you can be sure the WebCite link won’t change. Readers can then click on the WebCite link for the archived version. WebCite is supported by a range of academic and scientific publishers who already have an incentive to keep the service running. Check out its FAQ for information about its funding and security.
While many journalists find services and tools such as the Way Back Machine useful there is no way you can rely on it to cite a source. WebCite offers a range of other tools including a ‘WebCite This’ button for bloggers. See here for more on that.