Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater

Author:Jeremy Bowers
Posted:8/10/1999; 10:28:35 AM
Topic:Deep Linking
Msg #:9309 (In response to 9274)
Prev/Next:9308 / 9310

A lot of people talking about this subject have been going on about how the web is a public place, and if you put things up, you should expect people to link to them, as (apparently) those people have every right to do.

Not every page is like that, however. Does that mean you should never put up stuff on the web that a user has to pay for before seeing? If you link straight to that (somehow bypassing the pay mechanisms), you would be depriving me of the money due to me by law.

I don't think that the web is necessarily an intrinsically open thing. It is very conducive to that sort of environment, and correctly encourages it, but a web site is, indeed, a lot like a site. A home page is a lot like a home. If you want to build a glass house with open doors and invite anybody and their duck into your house, go ahead. If you want to build a secure compound in which various importent things are taking place, and carefully control the entrance, the technology exists for that, and there are valid reasons to do so, mostly for businesses.

Taking that idea and applying it to the topic at hand, I think that a link is exactly what the word "link" implies. It is a link, a pointer, a giving-of-directions. If we ban deep linking, then we must also ban people typing complete URLs into the browser and bypassing whatever the sites are annoyed at us bypassing.

The problem is not the linker in this case, who is doing something perfectly justified. The problem is the linkee. If you want to build a compound where all entrance is carefully controlled, then do so. On the Internet, tecnical barriers speak louder then legal barriers, and are much more effective. If you built a flimsy house that anybody can walk into, that is interprated (correctly) as a "welcome" sign. That someone shows somebody else how to do it is to be expected, and generally considered a good thing.

There are many technical possibilities. The one I came up with involves creating a permission token of some kind, and embedding it (dynamically) into the querystring on the link, recording that that is legal to follow for, say, 10 minutes, after which, you need to reload the page for a new one. (No cookies, no broken links, all you need is a database, and a competent programmer could put this together in hours. For real security, add IP tracking, so even a script to pull a current link off a page won't work.)

Given the fact that this should, at most, cost a week for a competent programmer to come up with a reasonably secure implementation (you're only shooting for keeping honest people honest) that can be implemented systematically, the question comes up of why we should be saddled with new legal problems for deep linking? We're talking technical solutions on the order of locking a door, not on the order of re-building Fort Knox.

If one web site wants to point at another, let it. When the user follows that link and comes a-knockin', instead of filing an injunction against him (or her or the referrer), just deny them entry unless they jump through whatever hoops you require (just like in the real world, you can't just walk onto anybody's property). Sites that go crazy and block everything will experience social justice and learn to tone things down.

(Why will they experience social justice? If you want to refer to a specific page on a site (DEEP in a site, let's say 3 levels), but you can only link to a home page, then you aren't ever going to link to them at all. The user won't be able to find what you're referring to, esp. given the state of navigation and searching on the web as a whole. You won't be indexed by search engines. Barring a huge publicity promotion, if nobody ever links to you, who's going to visit your site?)

The biggest danger is that a law will be enacted (or judicially created) to "solve" a problem that will be short term (ending as soon as the companies realize what blocking linking really, really means).

Note that none of this pertains to making it look like content belongs to you. That's fraud, not simple linking, and is a different ball o' wax. Still, if you're having troublemakers, block them, don't sue them!

There are responses to this message:

This page was archived on 6/13/2001; 4:51:48 PM.

© Copyright 1998-2001 UserLand Software, Inc.