Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Deep Links

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Aug 14, 1999

Posted to DEOS-L 14 August 1999

Much discussion on this list has recently focussed on the question of deep links, that is, links which point to a specific page within a site rather than to a front or cover page.

Like most such questions regarding internet connectivity, this is a question which is best solved through technology and not through law.

Owners who wish people to enter the site through the front page need only add a very small script to their web pages which will redirect users to the front page if that user is entering the site from an outside site.

Place this into the head of your HTML files (making sure the referrer points to your page and not mine ;)) and nobody using Javascript (the vast majority of users) will ever be able to deep link into your site.

Now - given that such a simple solution exists, one must ask two questions:

First: why would anyone want to use the heavy hand of the law to force people to do something when such an easy alternative exists? I don't think there is a good answer to this question.

It would be like enacting legislation which prohibits a person from opening a book directly to page 257. No such law exists, for the simple reason that if they author wants to prevent a person from opening to a specific page, he or she need only publish the work as a scoll, and not a book.

It makes no sense to pass laws prohibiting the use of a medium via means inherent to that medium, especially when alternative media exist. Just so, linking is inherent to the World Wide Web; the web would not exist without it. So it makes no sense to pass laws prohibiting, or even limiting, the use of linking.

But more importantly, the second question is this second: why don't online publishers actually do this? Why don't we see sites redirecting people to the front page all the time?

I think that the reason is that people would not use a site constructed in such a manner. They would not want to click the three or four links that it takes to obtain the resource in question (if they could even find it again). One of the key principles of successful commercial sites is: make it easy for the user.

Moreover, most sites which are supported via advertisements place banners on each of their content pages. Thus, for example, even you link directly into a page in last year's Mercury News, you are going to view a banner with today's advertising on it. Ad revenue is an aggregate of all the banner views, so the News doesn't care whether you viewed only the home page or only the content page; what is key is that you viewed the banner.

I really don't think there is any issue regarding deep linking, either from a copyright or a marketing point of view. And much more important questions regarding copyright exist.

For example, a number of people posting to this list have quoted American copyright law to defend a restriction QED. But it's not that simple; we need also to ask whether laws defined for print publications are appropriate in an electronic medium. And we need to ask whether American legislation, which is by far and away the most generous to the copyright owner, is the the best legislation to implement on a global scale.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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