silly lawsuit of the week

OK. Short version of the story in InformationWeek: Woman puts up a website. She puts a “webwrap” agreement at the bottom – i.e. basically a contract that says if you use the site then you agree to the contract. Still some question as to whether such a mechanism is binding, but anyway…

So the Internet Archive of course comes along and indexes her site. Which apparently is a violation of the webwrap. So she sues, representing herself, I believe. The court throws out everything on a preliminary motion by IA except for the breach of contract.

InformationWork observes that “Her suit asserts that the Internet Archive’s programmatic visitation of her site constitutes acceptance of her terms, despite the obvious inability of a Web crawler to understand those terms and the absence of a robots.txt file to warn crawlers away.” (my emphasis). They then conclude with this statement:

If a notice such as Shell’s is ultimately construed to represent just such a “meaningful opportunity” to an illiterate computer, the opt-out era on the Net may have to change. Sites that rely on automated content gathering like the Internet Archive, not to mention Google, will have to convince publishers to opt in before indexing or otherwise capturing their content. Either that or they’ll have to teach their Web spiders how to read contracts.

(my emphasis).

They already have – sort of. It’s called robots.txt – the thing referred to above. For those of you who haven’t heard of this, its a little file that you put on the top level of your site and which is the equivalent of a “no soliciation” sign on your door. Its been around for at least a decade (probably longer) and most (if not all) search engines

From the Internet Archive’s FAQ:

How can I remove my site’s pages from the Wayback Machine?

The Internet Archive is not interested in preserving or offering access to Web sites or other Internet documents of persons who do not want their materials in the collection. By placing a simple robots.txt file on your Web server, you can exclude your site from being crawled as well as exclude any historical pages from the Wayback Machine.

Internet Archive uses the exclusion policy intended for use by both academic and non-academic digital repositories and archivists. See our exclusion policy.

You can find exclusion directions at exclude.php. If you cannot place the robots.txt file, opt not to, or have further questions, email us at info at archive dot org.

standardized methods of communications – privacy policies, etc. – more. Question is, will people be required to use it, or simply disregard and act dumb?

Virtual Diplomacy

Short one as its getting late. Interesting piece on how Sweden is setting up an embassy in Second Life. As most of you know, Second Life is a MMORPG – a virtual world of sorts where people can control computer generated images of people in a virtual world.

That being said, somewhat less exciting than first blush, as the new virtual Swedish embassy will only provide information on visas, immigration, etc. Perhaps not surprising – I mean, its not like you should be able to get a real-world passport through the use of your virtual character. Nor, God forbid, do I hope they’re introducing the bureaucracy of passports to travel through virtual countries….

Microsoft v. Apple, Round ??

Another recent story/editoril in The Inquirer egging on Apple to divorce the way cool OSX and license it separately from the somewhat maybe less cool hardware (at least in the eyes of the Inq). And who else to better promote OSX than Dell. Anyway, a snippet:

Apple could position the move as “Dell is so cool, we had to do a deal with them.” Underlying that is “Let’s face facts, with the exception of a pretty case, and a couple of hardware features, we’re an Intel box all the same.” (I know I’m going to get foaming rabid Mac owners that say the bits under the hood of their machines are especially selected by Zen Master Craftsmen and assembled by virgins in a far off land with blessed incense burning on a 24×7 basis, but it just ain’t so).

What has Apple got to lose? Zero.

I certainly would be interested in seeing Apple do this. On the other hand, I don’t know if it would come at “zero” cost. As their user base increases, so do the variations of hardware that people will want to use, and the drivers, and the third party software and, before you know it, you’re starting to make compromises here and there to let everything work. Then as more users come on board it starts becoming more of a target for hackers, who then start working feverishly to craft attacks, trojans and viruses, then leading your users to suggest that your platform is inherently security-deficient, requiring further investment in updates, patches, etc. Then of course you get on MS’ radar, who also produces a rather important office productivity app for OSX and may not take too kindly to Apple trying once again to eat its lunch.

I don’t know. I just don’t see it happening. OSX is nice and all, but to my simple mind, there is, and has been, a viable alternative to Microsoft operating systems for quite some time – replete with easy installation, cool features, nice interfaces, good security, and even relatively broad hardware compability – its called Linux and its free. And unlike the old Slackware days, Ubuntu (along with several other variations), is pretty easy to install and configure. But even with all this, where’s Linux on the desktop? Yes, its certainly being used, but has it made more than a few percentage points dent on MS market share? No. Why? Inertia. Windows has the biggest installed base, therefore the biggest possible customer base, so developer develop for Windows and put less effort into others (with of course some exceptions). Therefore more apps for Windows. And users don’t pick an OS because they like it – they pick it because of the apps they can run on it. So they continue to buy Windows. Not because its that much better than Linux, or OSX, but because they have MS Office, Adobe Acrobat, Photoshop, Premiere, SAS, Mathematica, Cubase, AutoCAD, etc. etc. etc. all at their disposal. Sure, there are some nice apps for Linux and of course OSX – but certainly nowhere near the depth or breadth of Windows apps.

Given this, why the heck would Apple bother trying where Linux (which has a nicer price point) hasn’t (yet) succeeded? I guess we’ll see. It would be neat to see how far they get. But I ain’t holding my breath.