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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Open To Abuse?

One of the tricky things about considering a new idea for a site/service is thinking through ways it could be misused. Although being overly pessimistic is a mistake, you shouldn’t underestimate the tenacity and creativity of spammers, phishers, trolls, griefers and other unsavoury characters.

A while back I was playing around with base64 encoding and the idea of storing content in URLs, a bit like data: but using a site for user-friendly editing/viewing in any browser. So you’d have a site that doesn’t actually contain any content from its perspective (no database or other storage), yet could have unlimited content from the users’ perspective (as they create URLs and view them). It didn’t strike me as having a clear practical use (limited to around 1.5KB, with URLs longer than the data represented), but the idea was fairly cool.

Taking the concept even further, data could be stored in the fragment identifier (the bit after a #), with processing handled by JavaScript. That’d mean the site wouldn’t even receive the encoded text (browsers don’t send the fragment identifier in HTTP requests). A site that never knows anything about the content? Even cooler.

I built a quick prototype, picked a domain name and sketched out a design, and could easily add features such as colour schemes, emoticons and links (meaning an entire miniscule site could be encapsulated in one URL via nesting). The same principle could be used to handle other snippets of data such as images or music.

But would it be a good idea to launch such a project? Does the fact that it never stores, serves or receives any content whatsoever (and won’t be indexed by search engines) eliminate the pitfalls pastebins, wikis and forums experience with spammy/abusive/illegal/copyrighted content? Sadly, I don’t think it gets off the hook despite the technicalities; the site would be associated with anything viewed/created and displaying user-submitted content, however limited, leads to problems.

So I think it’s an experiment that may not see the light of day, although the ideas might work their way into something else. Or am I being ludicrously cautious about a trivial tech demo that can only handle 1.5KB of data?


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