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News Feature
Tripod Defends Against Linking
By WebTV and e-Bay Users


By Dexter Davenport
(August 29, 1999)

Tripod took steps to protect itself from WebTV users and e-Bay bidders from what they call "the burgeoning problem of remote loading from the Tripod members servers to other services."

Tripod's "remote loading" is what most WebTV users refer to as linking. It occurs when WebTV users try to link graphics stored on Tripod into newsgroup postings, e-mail, or Web pages on other servers, including WebTV's community pages.

The remedy to remote loading or linking is what WebTV users call transloading -- transferring files from one server to another. WebTV does not support file transfer protocol (FTP) like personal computers and must rely on websites running server-side programs that allow file transfers.

This works for homepages hosted on the target servers, but does not work with e-mail which is transferred from server to server and often resides on the hard drive for personal computer users who may not be connected to the Internet when they read their e-mail. PC e-mail clients can embed graphic into an e-mail as attachments and transmit them with the text of the e-mail. But this results in large files, and the graphic is stored once for each message that uses it.

WebTV users can receive and forward graphics embedded as attachments by a PC user. WebTVers can also embed video captures and sound clips directly into email files. But they cannot embed graphics from their Web pages. WebTV has no local storage for pictures and must rely on servers.

Instead, WebTV users insert HTML code that links the e-mail to graphics held on Web servers. As a result, centralized storage of e-mail graphics falls into a gray area of ownership.

Early in its history, WebTV Networks Incorporated (WNI) encouraged its users to put HTML and images into their e-mail without providing any storage on WNI's servers. This encouraged WebTVers to engage in remote loading, or bandwidth theft from other servers.

To combat the problem, as of August 18, 1999, Tripod instituted an interstitial page that will pop up when a user hits a link that goes directly to an image stored on the Tripod server. WebTVers that put Tripod-based images in their WebTV e-mail signatures or on other companies' home pages were faced with broken links -- images were missing. However, if users arrived on a Tripod page with Tripod images, the page would load without the Interstitial page.

Tripod took this action, it said, to curb the remote loading from other servers. Tripod users receive free home pages in exchange for displaying advertisements on their pages, or in interstitial pop-up ads when viewed on personal computers. (The WebTV browser does not currently support non-WebTV interstitial ads.)

Remote loading causes the host server to dish out the bandwidth required to send the images without registering page views, and without displaying the advertisements Tripod sells to enable it to provide the free service. Since they incur greater usage on their servers but aren't gaining more ad views, they lose money.

The amount of money online services such as Tripod or Net4TV spends for Internet connections depend on the amount of bandwidth the site requires and uses. Linking in e-mails and newsgroup postings places a high burden on servers that must serve up the images every time that e-mail or posting is read. As a result, less bandwidth is available for serving pages, and the overall performance of the service declines. Tripod was being crushed by the burden of remote loading.

Remote loading of images and sounds is common on WebTV as WNI provides no accessible storage for its users to place images and sounds. Recently, WNI added a basic homepage hosting service and builder, along with a small amount of storage space. But WNI doesn't provide users with access to their own graphics for e-mail. Instead, WNI protects the graphics it hosts from "remote loading" by its own users within its own firewall. WebTV also sells advertising on its users pages and relies on gaining viewership to drive the price of ads.

Net4TV Voice initially heard user concerns through our e-mail and user feedback forms. Users wondered if it was a bug caused by WebTV or a change made by Tripod. We sent an e-mail to Tripod and received the same form letter received by other WebTV users.

Hello (member name),

As of August 18th, Tripod has instituted an interstitial page to help us stem the burgeoning problem of remote loading from the Tripod members servers to other services. Remote loading is a huge cost to Tripod and interferes with our ability to provide free web space for our members.

Tripod accounts are for use in the creation of web pages, not as storage space for images, zip files, sounds, etc. to be loaded on other services. This is clearly stated in our terms of service.

Tripod Member Web Page and Member Conduct Guidelines
The following is a non-exclusive list of actions and content that are prohibited on the Site. Tripod may cancel any Membership associated with such actions or content or may remove any associated Member Web Page with or without prior notice, in its sole discretion.

i) Use of a Member Web Page as storage for remote loading, or as a door or signpost to another home page.

It costs huge amounts of money to host free web pages, and when our servers are taxed with no pageviews (i.e. remote-loading on e-bay and webtv emails) we are simply throwing money away.

Thank you.

Amy Johns

Membership Services
Tripod, Inc. / A Division of Lycos

We tested linking to Tripod at the time we first received complaints and found linking to be blocked. But as we went to press, we tested it again and found it open. We're not sure if this is due to user complaints to Tripod, or if it is merely a temporary situation. We will update this story as we find out more information.

For more information about remote loading and linking, visit How Linking and Bandwidth Work.


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