echo reply

By now, everyone and their brother has reblogged Darin’s post about experimental support for <a ping>. And, as I think most people predicted, there was an outcry about privacy concerns, support for non-standard HTML extensions. Others have written lots about what the actual effect on the privacy landscape is (IMO, a slight improvement), so I won’t rehash that, and my feelings on the “divine right” of any one standards-for-a-living body to define the future of the web are pretty well-known among those who care, so you also won’t have to endure that.

What I‘m concerned about is that developers involved in this process were, in the words of at least one of them, “surprised” that there was controversy over implementation of this feature. I agree that, at least so far, the controversy seems to be based mostly on an incomplete understanding of how things are actually tracked on the web today. But there’s a difference between not thinking that the objections are valid and being surprised that people have a reaction to the proposal. The latter worries me a bit, because the emotional and social context in which we operate is pretty important to our success. We ignore that at our own peril, I think, though there would certainly also be peril in swaying with every wind. I guess this is why philosopher kings make the big bucks.

Also, somewhere between the initial bug filing, the trunk landing, the request that it go into the Firefox 2 branch, and Darin’s blog post, the original intent of this work seems to have become obscured, at least in our messaging: this is an experimental implementation to be used to gather feedback from implementors, web authors, users, and the rest of our huge world.

(Aside to the Slashdot submitter: when you link to a blog post that explicitly describes the feature and mentions that people might be nervous due to privacy fears, you might not want to say that it was “quietly” done. This was one of the louder landings for a change of its scale, IMO — which is as it should have been, also IMO.)

4 comments to “echo reply”

  1. Max
    entered 20 January 2006 @ 10:50 am

    It just needs a little marketing. The ping attribute is a polite way for websites to ask users for tracking information. Redirects are obnoxious and can’t be turned off. Ping is an improvment because it can be turned off by the user, hence the ping attribute can be seen as the site saying ‘Please tell me when you click this link’. In that context, it doesn’t really matter how much it gets used, at least site developers who want the info but also respect thier users would use it.

  2. Herman
    entered 20 January 2006 @ 3:53 pm

    Yes, it was a loud landing, no hidden stuff. But I didn’t read about it beforehand, only read the blog. Instantly comments asked if this feature could be disabled (or is disabled by default). An update to the blog only told that feature also exists as exploit in IE. That’s bad communication made worse. The technical reasons for the change are valid and may improve speed, they also improve tracking, but imho not much. In heise.de (50% Firefox!) there instantly was a big discussion, and someone told it can be disabled by pref browser.send_pings. I asked him where he got that info, he couldn’t tell, so I foolishly searched bugzilla for ‘ping’ (looping, swapping, wrapping etc..) instead of looking at checkins, found some ping bugs, found the bug, read discussion and comments, and had to read the patch to find the pref. I then tested the pref to be working at gemal.dk.

    I don’t accept an excuse this is for testing only, won’t be in next release. You don’t have to test what never could be in a release. Maybe it really was for making a field test, then it should have be done more clandestine, or more openly. Of course more clandestine would have hitten worse…

    I know privacy isn’t very important to most americans, but a browser is important to privacy so as a developer you should think about the fears of some tin foil heads and talk about it in advance, so other people not quite tin foil heads feel better about it.

    herman

    http://www.heise.de/mediadaten/english.shtml heise has 400.000 c’t magazines each fortnight, heise-online has 22 million visits and 150 million pageimpressions monthly.

    http://www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/65723 49.2% Gecko, 31.8% Microsoft ;-) 10/2005

    http://www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/33169 21.3% Netscape 66.9% Microsoft 03/2002

  3. entered 20 January 2006 @ 4:16 pm
    I know privacy isn’t very important to most americans, but a browser is important to privacy so as a developer you should think about the fears of some tin foil heads and talk about it in advance, so other people not quite tin foil heads feel better about it.

    I don’t know that privacy isn’t very important to most Americans — certainly most Americans I’ve worked with have had strong feelings on it, but that’s not the important part of your comment.

    I agree with the rest: we owe it to ourselves to communicate these things better, especially when we can tell from other mailing list conversations and bug comments that “non-tinfoil types” need to have some pieces of it explained to them. That was, in fact, the main point of my post, and I apologize if that wasn’t clear.

  4. entered 21 January 2006 @ 5:59 am

    Nice post, Mike. I thought it was well written and it cleared things up a bit.