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Commentary for: 23 February 1997
Last Week's edition

Search engines pushing the limits
award logo Over the past few years there have been numerous occasions when the issue of framing another site's content has been the catalyst for legal action and controversy. It seems that some search engines are now "pushing the limits" in this regard.

Perhaps the most blatant example of this is the new search site GoTo.com. This site is attempting to make money by allowing Web sites to buy a higher ranking by paying on a per click basis. This really blurs the distinction between advertising and indexing, it will be interesting to see whether their plans work out - but more importantly is the way they're linking to sites.

For an example of what I mean, look at this page which is the result of searching for the keyword "news". About half way down the page you'll see a link to The LA Times, one of the sites which took legal action against Total News last year for linking in frames.

You'll notice that if you click on the LA Times link, the Times page is loaded into a frame on the Goto.com site, with the Goto.com branding clearly visible at the top of the screen and in the URL line.

I wonder what the LA Times will say about that?

Another search engine which has started doing this is Lycos.

The justification for these frames is probably that it allows people to rank sites in the index - but would you want your site displayed like this? And what happens when some novice Net user bookmarks the page - unless they remember to break out of the frame (a link is provided) they're actually bookmarking the Lycos or Goto.com site.

I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this method of linking and I suspect a lot of other sites will also be concerned - it will be interesting to see whether they're still framing sites in a few month's time.

De-geeking the Net
"Hey, can you see this site - run a traceroute for me will you?." That's a question I get asked quite often by my peers when they're not too sure why a Web site is inaccessible.

So, what's a traceroute and do YOU really need to know?

Well, this is one of the geek-speak terms that means nothing to the vast majority of Net users these days, unlike the "good old days" when a BSc in computer science and an ability to memorise all the parameters for AWK and GREP was compulsory.

A traceroute is basically a road-map of the path between two computers on the Internet and the program that produces this information is included with most operating systems these days - but the results are often cryptic and confusing to the non-technical user.

It was quite nice therefore to find a site on the Web that provides a traceroute service in a very visual manner. Part of the service offered by Alexa, the tracemap page is rather neat.

It does a little more than your average traceroute program as well, showing the registered location of the target site and clearly marking the "shaky" and fast parts of the route.

This site won't replace a regular traceroute program but it's an interesting alternative or just a handy way to see exactly where a particular site is located, or at least where it is registered. You'll notice that if you check Aardvark.co.nz, the path appears to go all the way to NZ - but actually the Aardvark site is hosted in California - so it's not 100% reliable.

Ah.. but what the hell, it's real pretty!

awk, grep, rm *

Much as I might hate to say it...
Who's going to pay for Web content?
At the start of last year I predicted that we'd see an increasing number of Web sites charging for access to their content - I was wrong - nothing new there!

Well maybe I wasn't completely wrong, I just got the timing wrong by about 12 months.

Slate, one of Microsoft's Net-content ventures is about to charge US$20 per year for full access to its site and everyone else in the industry is watching with bated breath to see what happens.

So far, most attempts to charge for Web content have failed dismally. There are only a very few sites that can actually justify a subscription or pay-per-view charge and these are almost always publications that have already established their credibility in a different media - a good example being the Wall Street Journal.

Closer to home, has anyone noticed how many of the services at the NBR site have been converted from subscription or pay-per-use to free?

For example, the classified advertising section, if I recall correctly, required payment but now it's free. Perhaps the fact that in over a year there have been little more than a handful of ads posted is a clue to why they've changed.

When IDG launched their @IDG site several years ago it was announced that some parts of the site would eventually attract a subscription fee - but nothing's happened yet.

Quite honestly I think that 99.9% of Web publications will have to make do with the advertiser-funded model for the time being, the reason being that there's just so much content out their on the Web that readers can usually find an alternative source for almost anything. If site 'A' decides to charge, there are probably tens or maybe even hundreds of other sites out there which will provide the same or similar content for free and most Net users know this.

If we draw an analogy with the TV industry we see that the free-to-air broadcasters are turning a very handsome profit using the advertiser-funded content model while SkyTV are still bleeding red ink even though they're providing their programmes on a subscription basis.

So... don't worry - Aardvark will still be free!

What do you think about the prospect of paying for access to Web sites? Why not have your say in the Aardvark Forums.

Domain name trivia
Over the past few years we've seen a lot of domain name speculators rush out and buy huge numbers of generic and trademarked domain names with a view to reselling them for a profit.

As far as I'm aware, nobody's been particularly successful at this and in some cases (Cadbury.co.nz and Sanyo.co.nz for instance), the speculators have been forced to hand over the domains by the courts.

I was surprised therefore to find some prime Net real-estate still unclaimed the other day when I registered talkback.co.nz and politics.co.nz. I didn't register these sites with a view to speculation - I've got some definite plans in mind for them - but I was surprised that they were available.

What are Celsius AB, a Swedish organisation planning to do with the domain kockums.co.nz... the mind boggles!

Just what are Industrial Press, publishers of Bits & Bytes and NetGuide NZ are going to do with their new domain name: computermag.co.nz?

Dane Blackmore of Web Innovations Ltd appears to be one of the busiest domain name speculators and I suspect that about the only name he's registered recently that may have some value is porn.co.nz but I don't see much value in his registration of key.co.nz.

And, just to close, if you've ever wanted to send email to some bastard but didn't know their address you'll be glad to see that this site has been registered recently.

some domain name speculators are stupid

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The I.C.B.I.T Award
I Can't Believe It's True!

What a nerve!

Mercury Energy have a lot to answer for after allowing the Auckland Central Business District to become a powerless ghost-town. Several ISPs in that area are now being forced to run on standby generators.

There's nothing technically wrong with their Web site, but can you believe that a company with profits like this could let this kind of thing happen?

Web site of shame

You'll notice that although numerous other Web sites have been put out of action by the power failure - Mercury's own site continues unaffected - just to rub salt into the wound.

 
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