[whatwg] <a href="" ping="">

Ian Hickson ian at hixie.ch
Fri Oct 21 11:43:59 PDT 2005

One of the patterns I've seen a lot while looking at big sites is this:

   <a href="record?url=http%3A%2F%2Ffoo.example.com/"> Foo </a>

...where "redirect" is a CGI script that records that the user followed 
the link, and that then redirects the user to the real page (potentially 
setting a cookie in the process).

This is used for four main reasons:

 1. Improving sites, by getting data regarding how users use the site.

 2. Keeping track of which adverts were clicked on, for book-keeping.

 3. Improving services, e.g. by offering a number of options, checking 
    which the user picked, and making that one be the first on the list 
    the next time the user uses the service.

 4. Uniquely identifying and tracking a user for evil purposes.

Sometimes more than one of the above is done, e.g. clicking on adverts 
sometimes informs the publisher and the advertiser before moving the user 
to the real destination.

The problem at the moment is that the redirect mechanism obscures the 
eventual target URI. It would be good to have the target URI separate 
from the tracking URIs, so that the UA can show each of them separately in 
the UI, indicating the user who is getting told what.

Doing this would also allow the UA to easily turn off the pinging thing 
for users who are worried about point 4 above.

Bearing the above in mind, I've added a section to the <a> element that 
describes a ping="" attribute. The URIs given in this attribute would be 
followed when the user clicks the link, thus getting around the problems 
listed above.

Now, because of number 4 above, I'm guessing this is going to be 
controversial, which is why I'm calling this out explicitly (as opposed to 
waiting til I've filled in all the TBW sections and then just asking for a 
general review, since people might miss it if I did that).

Thoughts? Is it evil?


Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'

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