Tags: hosting

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The meaning of AMP

Ethan quite rightly points out some semantic sleight of hand by Google’s AMP team:

But when I hear AMP described as an open, community-led project, it strikes me as incredibly problematic, and more than a little troubling. AMP is, I think, best described as nominally open-source. It’s a corporate-led product initiative built with, and distributed on, open web technologies.

But so what, right? Tom-ay-to, tom-a-to. Well, here’s a pernicious example of where it matters: in a recent announcement of their intent to ship a new addition to HTML, the Google Chrome team cited the mood of the web development community thusly:

Web developers: Positive (AMP team indicated desire to start using the attribute)

If AMP were actually the product of working web developers, this justification would make sense. As it is, we’ve got one team at Google citing the preference of another team at Google but representing it as the will of the people.

This is just one example of AMP’s sneaky marketing where some finely-shaved semantics allows them to appear far more reasonable than they actually are.

At AMP Conf, the Google Search team were at pains to repeat over and over that AMP pages wouldn’t get any preferential treatment in search results …but they appear in a carousel above the search results. Now, if you were to ask any right-thinking person whether they think having their page appear right at the top of a list of search results would be considered preferential treatment, I think they would say hell, yes! This is the only reason why The Guardian, for instance, even have AMP versions of their content—it’s not for the performance benefits (their non-AMP pages are faster); it’s for that prime real estate in the carousel.

The same semantic nit-picking can be found in their defence of caching. See, they’ve even got me calling it caching! It’s hosting. If I click on a search result, and I am taken to page that has a URL beginning with https://www.google.com/amp/s/... then that page is being hosted on the domain google.com. That is literally what hosting means. Now, you might argue that the original version was hosted on a different domain, but the version that the user gets sent to is the Google copy. You can call it caching if you like, but you can’t tell me that Google aren’t hosting AMP pages.

That’s a particularly low blow, because it’s such a bait’n’switch. One of the reasons why AMP first appeared to be different to Facebook Instant Articles or Apple News was the promise that you could host your AMP pages yourself. That’s the very reason I first got interested in AMP. But if you actually want the benefits of AMP—appearing in the not-search-results carousel, pre-rendered performance, etc.—then your pages must be hosted by Google.

So, to summarise, here are three statements that Google’s AMP team are currently peddling as being true:

  1. AMP is a community project, not a Google project.
  2. AMP pages don’t receive preferential treatment in search results.
  3. AMP pages are hosted on your own domain.

I don’t think those statements are even truthy, much less true. In fact, if I were looking for the right term to semantically describe any one of those statements, the closest in meaning would be this:

A statement used intentionally for the purpose of deception.

That is the dictionary definition of a lie.

Update: That last part was a bit much. Sorry about that. I know it’s a bit much because The Register got all gloaty about it.

I don’t think the developers working on the AMP format are intentionally deceptive (although they are engaging in some impressive cognitive gymnastics). The AMP ecosystem, on the other hand, that’s another story—the preferential treatment of Google-hosted AMP pages in the carousel and in search results; that’s messed up.

Still, I would do well to remember that there are well-meaning people working on even the fishiest of projects.

Except for the people working at the shitrag that is The Register.

(The other strong signal that I overstepped the bounds of decency was that this post attracted the pond scum of Hacker News. That’s another place where the “well-meaning people work on even the fishiest of projects” rule definitely doesn’t apply.)

The tragedy of the commons

Flickr Commons is a wonderful thing. That’s why I’m concerned:

Y’know, I’m worried about what will happen to my own photos when Flickr inevitably goes down the tubes (there are still some good people there fighting the good fight, but they’re in the minority and they’re battling against the douchiest of Silicon Valley managerial types who have been brought in to increase “engagement” by stripping away everything that makes Flickr special) …but what really worries me is what’s going to happen to Flickr Commons. It’s an unbelievably important and valuable resource.

The Brooklyn Museum is taking pre-emptive measures:

As of today, we have left Flickr (including The Commons).

Unfortunately, they didn’t just leave their Flickr collection; they razed it to the ground. All those links, all those comments, and all those annotations have been wiped out.

They’ve moved their images over to Wikimedia Commons …for now. It turns out that they have a very cavalier attitude towards online storage (a worrying trait for a museum). They’re jumping out of the frying pan of Flickr and into the fire of Tumblr:

In the past few months, we’ve been testing Tumblr and it’s been a much better channel for this type of content.

Audio and video is being moved around to where the eyeballs and earholes currently are:

We have left iTunesU in favor of sharing content via YouTube and SoundCloud.

I find this quite disturbing. A museum should be exactly the kind of institution that should be taking a thoughtful, considered approach to how it stores content online. Digital preservation should be at the heart of its activities. Instead, it takes a back seat to chasing the fleeting thrill of “engagement.”

Leaving Flickr Commons could have been the perfect opportunity to invest in long-term self-hosting. Instead they’re abandoning the Titanic by hitching a ride on the Hindenberg.

AudioGO

You never forget your first DMCA takedown notice. In my case it was the Perfect Pitch incident, in which an incompetent business was sending out automatic takedown notices to Google for any website that contained a combination of the words Burge Pitch Torrent. That situation, which affected The Session, was resolved with an apology from the offending party.

Now I’ve received my second DMCA takedown notice. Or rather, my hosting company has. This time it involves Huffduffer.

When I created Huffduffer, I thought about offering hosting for audio files. One of the reasons I decided not to is because of the potential legal pitfalls. As it stands, Huffduffer is pretty much entirely text—it just links to audio files elsewhere on the web. That’s basically what an RSS enclosure is: another form of hypertext.

Linking is simply the act of pointing to a resource, and apart from a few extreme cases, it isn’t illegal.

Now it could be argued that pointing to an audio file on another site through a Flash player (or HTML5 audio element) is more like hotlinking with an img element than regular linking through an a element. The legal status of hotlinking isn’t quite as clear cut as plain ol’ linking, as explained on the Chilling Effects site:

When people complain about inline images, they are most often complaining about web pages that include graphics from external sources. The legal status of inlining images without permission has not been settled.

So the situation with inline audio is similarly murky.

Here’s the threatening email that was sent to the hosting company:

Notice of Copyright Infringement. {Our ref: [$#121809/228552]}

Sender: Robert Nichol
AudioGO Ltd
The Home of BBC Audiobooks
St James House, The Square, Lower Bristol Road
Bath
BA2 3BH
Phone number not available

Recipient: Rackspace Hosting

RE: Copyright Infringement.

This notice complies with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. §512(c)(3))

I, Robert Nichol, swear under penalty of perjury that I am authorised to act on behalf of AudioGO Ltd, the owner(s) of the copyright or of an exclusive licence in the work(s) The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie BBC Audio.

It has come to my attention that the website huffduffer.com is engaged in the electronic distribution of copies of these works. It is my good faith belief that the use of these works in this manner is not authorised by the copyright owner, his agent or the law. This is in clear violation of United States, European Union, and International copyright law, and I now request that you expeditiously remove this material from huffduffer.com, or block or disable access to it, as required under both US and EU law.

The works are The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie BBC Audio.

The following URLs identify the infringing files and the means to locate them.

https://huffduffer.com/TimesPastOTR/68635 (IP: 67.192.7.4)

The information in this notice is accurate and I request that you expeditiously remove or block or disable access to all the infringing material or the entire site.

/Robert Nichol/
Robert Nichol

Wednesday April 18, 2012

Initially, my hosting company rebutted Robert Nichol’s claim but he’s not letting it go. He insists that the offending URL be removed or he will get the servers taken offline. So now I’ve been asked by my host to delete the relevant page on Huffduffer.

But the question of whether audio hotlinking counts as copyright infringement is a moot point in this case…

Go to the page in question. If you try to play the audio file, or click on the “download” link, you will find yourself at a 404 page. Whatever infringing material may have once been located at the end of the link is long gone …and yet AudioGO Ltd are still insisting that the Huffduffer page be removed!

Just to be clear about this, Robert Nichol is using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act—and claiming “good faith belief” while doing so—to have a site removed from the web that mentions the name of a work by his client, and yet that site not only doesn’t host any infringing material, it doesn’t even link to any infringing material!

It seems that, once again, the DMCA is being used in a scattergun approach like a machine-gun in the hands of a child. There could be serious repercussions for Robert Nichol in abusing a piece of legislation in this way.

If I were to remove the page in question, even though it just contains linkrot, it would set a dangerous precedent. It would mean that if someone else—like you, for instance—were to create a page that contains the text “Agatha Christie — The Moving Finger” while pointing to a dead link …well, your hosting company might find themselves slapped with a takedown notice.

In that situation, you wouldn’t be able to copy and paste this markup into your blog, Tumblr, Facebook, or Google+ page:

<a href="http://dc436.4shared.com/img/892695085/b3c907d3/dlink__2Fdownload_2FaKhc8m9b_3Ftsid_3D20120318-72646-b4a59ab0/preview.mp3">Agatha Christie — The Moving Finger</a>

Remember: that link does not point to any infringing material. It points to nothing but a 404 page. There’s absolutely no way that you could have your site taken offline for pointing to a file that doesn’t exist, right?

That would be crazy.