Metadata Tools

A web citation tool – dealing with impermanent references

We’re all working hard to ensure that our own content is identified with persistent URLs – a referrer that will stand the test of time – but often when we are writing a paper we need to refer to someone else’s URL, most of which are not designed to be permanent.

Traditionally when we reference something on a website we put ‘accessed on X date’ but that is of little use to a reader who follows up a reference only to find the original has moved or gone.

That’s where WebCite comes in. WebCite is a bit like TinyUrl or any number of URL shortening services, a social bookmarking tool like, combined with a snapshotting tool. It provides a ‘shorter’ URL and it also keeps a copy of the entire page you have cited in its archive. This means that readers can read the exact same page, as it was when you were referencing it, at any time into the future – even if that page changes regularly (like the front page of a newspaper website).

You can also add custom DC metadata.

Here’s a WebCite capture of the Sydney Morning Herald’s front page as it was at the time of this post.

As you can see there are some problems in that it has been unable to capture the CSS to lay out the page properly, but for references to the text contained in a page it does a pretty good job.

Here’s a capture of an article from an online journal, D-Lib, which being predominantly text, works better.

There’s even a bookmarklet to add to your browser toolbar to make capturing even easier. Otherwise use the service manually via their archiving submission page. A submission takes about 20 seconds to capture.

5 replies on “A web citation tool – dealing with impermanent references”

Cool, I’ll check it out. It seems to nicely bridge the bookmarking and URL-shortening apps you mention with Zotero, which has this snapshotting facility but no means at present to share what you snapped.
Thinking laterally and looking at what, say, Firebug can achieve in terms of showing the developer the HTML and styles as inherited and rendered, I wonder if it might not be possible for them to do rather better in terms of showing the page as it was: the app should be able to save a rewrite the HTML as rendered, including assigning styles directly to all elements and not therefore relying on external stylesheets. In any case, it sounds like one of those incremental developments that can make a real difference.

Thanks, that’s really useful! I use Zotero for snapshots, but they’re not currently shareable.

You’d have an amazing tool if you could combine the snippet-capturing abilities of Zotero with the public, permanent links of WebCite.

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