Friday, March 11, 2011

Unweblike Behavior


For the second time in a single day I have come across content on the web that is "not available in your area". This is bullshit. It's the world wide web. It defies geographical location by definition. The whole point of the WWW is that if you put something on it, that thing can be seen by anyone on a computer anywhere on the planet.

I say that if a page has any content on it that can't be seen by anyone anywhere, then it is not on the web and should be removed from the web. Taking something off the web can be achieved in two ways. First, and easiest, it can be removed by the search engine companies from being included in results. If Google and Bing removed the above offending web site from their search results, the above offending web site would stop putting geographically limited content on their web site and thus gain re-admission to the web. I'm simply confident this is true. To effectively remove offending pages from the web, it might be necessary to remove entire domains from the search results. BBC doesn't want to have the entire domain taken off Google.

The second step would be to make a browser plug-in which referred to a black list of sites and removed links from the markup of any page linking to one of the offending pages or sites. The black list could be crowdsourced, so URL's could be added by users as they came across offending content. If this becomes an issue that people care about and start using this plugin widely, browsers might incorporate the behavior into the core of their programs.

Search engine companies like Google and Bing, and all browser companies all have an inherent interest in maintaining a global definition of the web. No government regulation is necessary to impose such a definition -- and I'm a guy who's usually in favor of regulation as a solution to big problems. But in this case there is a better way. Also, I'm not suggesting that all content be free and open to everyone no matter what. Pay walls and the like might or might not be a good idea, but they are not as a model contrary to a functioning world wide web. Certainly you do want to have restricted areas of web sites.

My thesis is simply that geolocation is an invalid filter for access to media on the web. It's perfectly fine to give me a default view that depends on my geolocation, but not to keep me locked out of certain content entirely. I think it will lead to a balkanization of the web.

Lastly, this does not mean that such geo-localized content would be banished from the world, just the web. Essentially, if you want to provide geo-localized content exclusively to people in a certain geographic area, then there's an app for that. Or, you make an app for that. The WWW is distinct and different than the Internet. I don't condone filtering the Internet.

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