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

dolphinling dolphinling at myrealbox.com
Fri Oct 21 14:22:45 PDT 2005

Ian Hickson wrote:
> 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?
>    http://whatwg.org/specs/web-apps/current-work/#ping

It's not evil in and of itself, but it won't ever be useful. Anyone who 
just finds themselves curious won't be able to use it reliably for at 
least 10 years, because of internet explorer. Anyone who actually 
_needs_ to know won't ever be able to use it, because it's easily 
disableable. Even in controlled environments where that can all be 
standardized it won't be useful, because in a controlled environment you 
can get most of that information easily anyway.

I do like the semantics of it. I like how it separates two things 
(linking and link tracking) which really should be separate. But I don't 
think it will work, and I think it should be removed in favor of some 
future idea that will work (if one is even possible).


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