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Notes from the Technology Trenches - April, 1999

By Elizabeth H. Klampert, Published on April 18, 1999

Roger Skalbeck is the Electronic Initiatives Librarian at Howrey & Simon in Washington, D.C., and is the Web Master of the Law Librarian's Society of Washington, D.C.  Current work activities cover myriad aspects of electronic research resource evaluation, intranet content development, as well as research and technology training, all from a librarian's point of view. This column reflects the personal views of the author, which are not necessarily those of his employer or any other organization. This column, of course, is 100% free of any legal advice.


More controversy over deep linking and a new search engine option for government-hosted servers

After a short summer hiatus, Notes from the Technology Trenches has returned. For my first column as the new Notes editor, I'd like to just jump right in to take a look at a topic that is heating up again. The issue is Web site linking, and it is a contentious one. The particular problem is called "deep linking," and not everybody is happy with the links that people are setting up on their sites. Deep linking is used to describe hyperlinks that point viewers of one site to specific content deep within those of another site, avoiding entrance through the secondary site's "front door." In the eyes of those objecting, most claims are that the links result in lost advertising revenues, because viewers don't go in through the hosting site's front door or some kind of main entrance. In the eyes of those implementing deep links (and those using them without even knowing it), the process might be cast as making the Web work as it really should.

An interesting irony raised by this month's column is that I have chosen to use deep links to referenced stories. All my deep links to commercial content point to news articles that are accompanied by online advertising, so there should be no controversy. To view New York Times stories, you have to register with the publisher, but these and the other linked news articles are otherwise free to access. Remaining commercial links in this column are not "deep" because they point you to the main home page of applicable sites.

This latest wave of controversies includes yet another suit by Ticketmaster, this time against Tickets.com, one of their competitors. The current suit alleges that Tickets.com inappropriately linked deep into the content of Ticketmaster's site, among other claims. This litigation comes after Ticketmaster had sued Microsoft on similar grounds in April, 1997. Aside from the potential for losing revenue for online advertising, Ticketmaster is presumably concerned about losing money on sales of tickets. Evidencing what is at stake here, a New York Times story in August about ExciteAtHome's decision to invest heavily in Tickets.com, quotes George Bell, president of ExciteAtHome as saying that: "ticketing online is projected to be one of the top five online commerce categories…."

A month prior to the most recent Ticketmaster suit, Universal Studios filed a copyright suit against the owner of Movie-List for providing links to trailers on the studio's Web site. In this case, Universal Studios apparently first asked the site's owner to remove content from Movie-List, and then subsequently asked the owner to remove all links to their servers. As many of these links are to multimedia files (mostly in Quicktime format), they function somewhat differently than hypertext links to HTML files. The multimedia files typically run automatically with the help of a software plug-in, arguably making it less likely that casual users recognize the origin of linked files. Although there are certainly shades of gray here, direct links to multimedia files may have a different impact than those to HTML files.

Rounding things out with another technology spin on the issue of linking, a CNET News story, September 3, 1999 reports that eBay is "clamping down on outside companies that use search engines to find items for sale on its site, arguing that the technology affects site performance." The rest of the article provides comments on the searching issue from personnel at eBay and from Bidder's Edge, which is the first auction site to comply with the request. According to the article, there are at least eight other auction sites that use a similar search service. Although not directly involving deep linking, this dispute also involves content-ownership issues and third-party use of content.

For insightful analysis of the linking phenomenon, including proposals for avoiding such controversy, check out two recent columns from Scott Rosenberg at Salon.com, entitled Don't link or I'll sue! and More on "deep links," journalists and IPOs. Among other things, Rosenberg points to some tehcnological options for site owners to better control the way that people link into their content.

With respect to deep linking for government documents, LLRX readers may remember that Phillip McAffee wrote about the advantages of deep linking in his Confessions of a Deep Linker article in June, 1998. A heading from a main section of this article states: "Internet citizens must demand sensible and stable Uniform Resource Locators for all Government Documents." Indeed, there almost certainly needs to be a greater degree of stability in the location of government documents published by agencies and even the courts and legislatures.

At the federal level, the demise of NTIS probably indicates that stable and sensible access to government documents is going to be increasingly more important, even if this corollary is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison. Actually, that might be more likely a bits and atoms comparison, as some of the complaints about the NTIS departure relate to the fact that their paper reprints of specialized reports will be much harder, if not impossible to come by.

Government Documents on the Web

On the topic of the government, if you have a need to search for materials that you think almost certainly produced documents and information, try the Uncle Sam Search, which is put out by Google, an impressive search engine from researchers at Stanford. With this, you are able to take advantage of Google's sophisticated searching and indexing, while limiting your target set to those materials found on .GOV and .MIL servers. This isn't perfect, as you will probably miss things such as the USDA Economics and Statistics System, hosted at Cornell, but the Uncle Sam Search is a lot faster and appears to be more current than the similarly-oriented GovBot search engine developed by the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval.

On an unrelated miscellaneous note, I was rather amused recently when I noticed that the cardboard heat protector for my cup of coffee was emblazoned with an advertisement for the Ask Jeeves search engine ("as seen on TV" it should have said!). Although I thought it a bit odd to get Internet searching tips from my local cappuccino kiosk, I guess its natural that computers and caffeine go together.

In closing, I'd like to thank Elizabeth Klampert, who authored this column since its inception back in September, 1997. She did a great job each month, and I hope that I can live up to her standards of highlighting issues of importance in the technology field for those of us in the legal community. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for this column, please send me an email.