If this feels at all familiar, you’re right! Back in 2011, I put together a web-based solution for repairing any old links VN broke when switching to WordPress and changing domain names.
Updating the Backstory
In the decade since I first took this on, things have changed substantially at VeloNews. New ownership returned the site to “velonews.com”, and their tech team did substantial work restoring the back catalog. But they didn’t get anywhere near all of it.
For example, all the very old links to the initial website installation still don’t resolve:
And due to changes in how different versions of WordPress convert article titles into “slugs”, VeloNews’ recent tech work still missed some content:
Those are issues VeloNews could still theoretically fix, though. The real problem is the eight-ish years of content they published at the velonews-dot-competitor-dot-com domain they no longer run.
Master of Your Domain
Because VN no longer controls the competitor.com domain, it’s powerless to decide what happens when people click those links. And that’s a problem—Google still indexes thousands of pages of VN content at those URLs. Currently when users follow these links nothing happens, which is one of the more benign outcomes. When domains change hands, you never know when the new owner might turn out to be a porn site.
Still, I can understand VeloNews’ relative disinterest in fixing these things; the business case is challenging to make. Tech resources are inherently limited, and most revenue comes from the newest content. Plus when the potential seller can see that VN’s parent company is “fat with cash” (as Bobke used to say), they’re unlikely to get a bargain buying the competitor.com domain back.
I’ll admit it feels a little off doing VN’s work for them, but ultimately this solution aligns the incentives. I want my website to have links that work—this script gives me that ability. I also care about the effect of link rot on the broader Internet, and an open-source project lets other people apply and/or modify this script as needed.
And if it lets me air some of VN’s dirty laundry while doing a little tech flex on the side…let’s just say that doesn’t hurt the equation, either.