The Problem

Authors increasingly cite webpages and other digital objects on the Internet, which can "disappear" overnight. In one study published in the journal Science, 13% of Internet references in scholarly articles were inactive after only 27 months. Another problem is that cited webpages may change, so that readers see something different than what the citing author saw. The problem of unstable webcitations and the lack of routine digital preservation of cited digital objects has been referred to as an issue "calling for an immediate response" by publishers and authors [1].

An increasing number of editors and publishers ask that authors, when they cite a webpage, make a local copy of the cited webpage/webmaterial, and archive the cited URL in a system like WebCite®, to enable readers permanent access to the cited material.

What is WebCite®?

WebCite®, which used to be a member of the International Internet Preservation Consortium, is an on-demand archiving system for webreferences (cited webpages and websites, or other kinds of Internet-accessible digital objects), which can be used by authors, editors, and publishers of scholarly papers and books, to ensure that cited webmaterial will remain available to readers in the future. If cited webreferences in journal articles, books etc. are not archived, future readers may encounter a "404 File Not Found" error when clicking on a cited URL. Try it! Archive a URL here. It's free and takes only 30 seconds.

A WebCite®-enhanced reference is a reference which contains - in addition to the original live URL (which can and probably will disappear in the future, or its content may change) - a link to an archived copy of the material, exactly as the citing author saw it when he accessed the cited material.


How does a WebCite®-enhanced reference look like?

How do I use WebCite® as a (citing) author to archive webpages I want to cite?

How can I use WebCite® as a reader?

How can I use WebCite® as an editor?

How can I use WebCite® as a library, internet archive, or digital preservation organization?

How can I use WebCite® as a citable Web-author (blogger, copyright holder of Webpages, etc), or for self-archiving?

How can I use WebCite® as a publisher?


How does a WebCite®-enhanced reference look like?

A WebCite®-enhanced reference contains the traditional elements of a reference (e.g. author and title of the cited webpage, if known), the cited URL, and a WebCite® URL.

There are two basic formats of a WebCite® URL: The opaque and the transparent format - the former can be used to be added to a cited URL, the latter can be used to replace a cited URL. Both formats will be returned in response to an archiving request, usually initiated by the citing author.

The opaque URL is very short and handy, containing a short ID like 5Kt3PxfFl (http://www.webcitation.org/5Kt3PxfFl). This format should only be used in a reference where the original URL is still visible:

Plunkett, John. "Sorrell accuses Murdoch of panic buying", The Guardian, October 27, 2005, URL: http://media.guardian.co.uk/site/story/0,14173,1601858,00.html, Archived at http://www.webcitation.org/5Kt3PxfFl on December 4th, 2006.

Alternatively, the cited URL and the cited date can be part of a single WebCite® URL (the transparent format), making it obsolete to spell out the original URL. The drawback is that the WebCite® URL can become pretty long:

Plunkett, John. "Sorrell accuses Murdoch of panic buying", The Guardian, October 27, 2005, archived URL: http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=media.guardian.co.uk/site/story/0,14173,1601858,00.html&date=2006-12-04

These are just examples, the actual citation formats preferred by different editors may differ. Most style guides currently give little or no guidance on how to cite URLs and their archived version, but most editors will accept something along the lines of citing the original URL together with the archived URL in a submitted manuscript. It is possible to omit the archiving or "accessed on" date (which is recommended in most style guides when citing URLs), because WebCite® always tells the reader when the snapshot was taken and in the transparent format it becomes part of the URL.

Another form of a WebCite® link contains the cited URL and the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) of the citing document (refdoi):

IMEX. http://www.webcitation.org/query.php?url=http://imex.sourceforge.net&refdoi=10.1186/jbiol36

This format is used by publishers who have implemented WebCite® (e.g. Biomed Central) by sending us their citing manuscripts shortly before or at publication (which our software combs for URLs which have not been archived by the citing author). A WebCite® URL containing a refdoi implies that a snapshot of the cited URL was taken when the citing paper (identified by its DOI) was published, and the archiving date of the snapshot retrieved by WebCite® if the reader clicks on this link will be close to the publishing date of the article. The example above is from the citing paper with the DOI 10.1186/jbiol36, which cites the URL http://imex.sourceforge.net (see reference 45).

A fourth way to retrieve a WebCite® snapshot is using a hash sum (a sort of a digital fingerprint of a document), however, citing a document by URL and date is currently much more common than using a hash.

A fifth way is that WebCite® may have (on request of the cited author/publisher) assigned a DOI to an archived snapshot, so that the link has the format http://dx.doi.org/10.2196/webcite.xx" (where xxx is the hash key of the material in WebCite®). The DOI resolver at dx.doi.org (which is commonly also used to resolve cited journal and book references) would then resolve to a WebCite® page (or an intermediary page pointing to the same work in other archives, to other manifestations such as print or pdf, or - in the case of online preprints - to "final" publications).

For further information see Best Practices Guide.

How do I use WebCite® as a (citing) author to archive webpages I want to cite?

WebCite® is an entirely free service for authors who want to cite webmaterial, regardless of what publication they are writing for (even if they are not listed as members).

The author of a citing manuscript can:

  • Either manually initiate the archiving of a single cited webpage (by using either the WebCite bookmarklet or the archive page) and manually insert a citation to the permanently archived webdocument on webcitation.org in his manuscript, or;
  • Upload an entire citing manuscript to the WebCite server via the comb page, which initiates the WebCite® tool to comb through the manuscript and to archive all cited non-journal URLs. The WebCite® software also replaces all URLs in the manuscript with a link to the permanently archived webdocument on webcitation.org.

How can I use WebCite® as a reader?

Simply click on the WebCite® link provided by publishers or citing authors in their WebCite®-enhanced references to retrieve the archived document in case the original URL stopped working, or to see what the citing author saw when he cited the URL.

Readers can also search the WebCite database to see how a given URL looked like on a given date - provided somebody has cited that URL on or near that date. The date search is "fuzzy", i.e. the date does not have to match exactly the archiving date - we always retrieve the closest copy and give a warning if the dates do not match. A drop-down list on top of the frame with different dates tells readers that snapshots were taken on these dates. Select any of these dates to retrieve the respective snapshot.

How can I use WebCite® as an editor?

If you are a journal or book editor, publisher, or copyeditor, the first thing you should do is to insert a note in your "Instructions for authors" (example) asking your authors to use webcitation.org to permanently archive all cited webpages and websites, and to cite the archived copy in addition to the original link.

Secondly, editors/copyeditors should initiate the archiving of cited webpages (see instructions above "How to use WebCite® as an author") and replace all webcitations in a manuscript with links to the archived copy, before the manuscript is published.

Thirdly, please notify us that you are using WebCite® -- you will become a member of WebCite® (which is free) by filling in the form.

How can I use WebCite® as a library, internet archive, or digital preservation organization?

WebCite® works with digital preservation partners who are running dark mirrors. This ensures that archived content remains accessible for future generations, and even if the WebCite® server is down. If you are interested, please fill in this form.. Current digital preservation partners include the Internet Archive as well as several libraries, through which WebCite® archived material may be available.

How can I use WebCite® as a citable Web-author (blogger, copyright holder of Webpages, etc), or for self-archiving?

Academic bloggers and authors of non-journal scholarly webpages who foresee the possibility to be cited in the scholarly literature (“citable Web-author“ or subsequently called “cited author”), but are concerned about the persistence and citability of their work can add a WebCite link to their work (if you have a “button farm” linking to Digg etc – just add the button below). If your content is dynamically changing, then you can publish a button which creates a new archived version whenever somebody cites the work:

Cite this page!

This will ensure that the reader (“citing author”) knows exactly how to cite the work, and makes sure that a snapshot of the cited work is preserved in WebCite® and its digital preservation partners.

If your online content is static, and you want readers to cite a specific version, you can self-archive your work. You may then publish a button and link to the snapshot in the WebCite® archive within your work, or when referring to it:

Cite as: Giustini D. Open Source, Open Access - And Open Search? URL: http://oalibrarian.blogspot.com/2006/07/open-source-open-access-and-open.html (accessed 26-Nov-2007). Self-Archived at WebCite® on 26-Nov-2007 [http://www.webcitation.org/5TeS43Ipq]

Thus, WebCite® can be used by authors as a one-click self-archiving tool, to ensure that for example preprints, discussion papers, and other formally unpublished material remains citable and available. All they have to do is to publish a preprint online, and then to self-archive it here.

Note that all these buttons should not be used for journal articles, which are presumably already archived through other mechanisms (LOCKSS etc.)

WebCite® premium members will also be able to search the archive, assign a DOI to their work archived in WebCite®, specify whether ads can be displayed (they receive a proportion of the ads revenues) etc. If a DOI is assigned, citing authors/publishers can use a link to dx.doi.org, which enables doi.org to resolve the link to either WebCite® or another archive, e.g. the Internet Archive, if a archived copy with an identical hash is found.

How can I use WebCite® as a publisher?

Contact us to participate in the WebCite® collaboration by filling in the form. Participating publishers include publishers of scholarly journals like BioMed Central who use WebCite to preserve cited webmaterial.

They do this by encouraging their editors to instruct their authors and copyeditors to cache all cited URLs "prospectively" before submission or during the copyediting process, respectively, and/or by submitting manuscript XML files to WebCite® at the time of publication, so that WebCite® can comb through the manuscript and archive cited webpages automatically. We can also analyze back-issues of your journal(s) and archive the cited documents "retrospectively".

Implementation examples at publishers

Biomed Central uses a WebCite logo to link to the archived copy in every webreference. See for example this reference in the Journal of Biology

Another example is the Journal of Medical Internet Research - almost all articles in this Journal cite URLs, and since 2005 all are archived. See http://www.jmir.org/2005/5/e60#ref9 for an example.


1. Dellavalle RP, Hester EJ, Heilig LF, Drake AL, Kuntzman JW, Graber M, et al. Information science. Going, going, gone: lost Internet references. Science 2003 Oct 31;302(5646):787-788. DOI:10.1126/science.1088234

2. Eysenbach G, Trudel M. Going, Going, Still There: Using the WebCite Service to Permanently Archive Cited Web Pages. J Med Internet Res 2005;7(5):e60. DOI:10.2196/jmir.7.5.e60
URL: http://www.jmir.org/2005/5/e60/ [Archived in WebCite]

3. Cockerill M. Webcite links provide access to archived copy of linked web pages. BioMed Central Blog. URL: http://blogs.openaccesscentral.com/blogs/bmcblog/entry/webcite_links_provide_access_to [Archived in WebCite]