W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-bpwg@w3.org > March 2009

Blocking policy (WAS RE: The Web has flexible presentation Re: (Nielsen article))

From: Rotan Hanrahan <rotan.hanrahan@mobileaware.com>
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2009 17:24:44 -0000
Message-ID: <D5306DC72D165F488F56A9E43F2045D301EA020D@FTO.mobileaware.com>
To: <public-bpwg@w3.org>
>>> Although it is possible to block specific user agents, we don't see  
>>> people who we know block various browsers often choose to do that to  
>>> OPera Mini - it appears that in general they are happy to have further  
>>> ways for their users to reach them.
>> really? this is an interesting remark, because some companies were  
>> really mad at your friends at ByteMobile who were transcoding and  
>> replacing the original UA string with the one of Opera-Mini. Shall I ask  
>> those companies to report about their experience here?
> If you like. I don't expect everyone to appreciate everything that
> happens. I know that some companies preferred to work with people like
> Rotan, who allow them to provide highly targetted adaptations to a huge
> range of particular devices, and *do* block Opera.

Just for the record, my company (MobileAware) doesn't block Opera, but it is possible to configure our products to block whatever you like, and some of our customers decide to use that ability to not offer certain services (e.g. mobile banking) to browsers such as Opera Mini. In part, this is because Opera have been up-front about how Mini works, and knowing that there was a brief period in which sensitive data was in plain text as it passed through Opera's service was enough of a concern for them to choose to block Mini. Other customers, however, consider Opera to be trustworthy enough to not block Mini traffic during sensitive interactions.

MobileAware takes no position with regard to the trustworthiness or otherwise of any intermediate. We just want it to be possible to know that intermediaries are present, and have a reliable way to signal/bypass them if that's what our customers and our customers' customers want.


-----Original Message-----
From: public-bpwg-request@w3.org [mailto:public-bpwg-request@w3.org] On Behalf Of Charles McCathieNevile
Sent: 19 March 2009 16:26
To: Luca Passani; public-bpwg@w3.org
Subject: Re: The Web has flexible presentation Re: (Nielsen article)

On Sat, 07 Mar 2009 02:00:31 +0100, Luca Passani <passani@eunet.no> wrote:

> Charles McCathieNevile wrote:
>>> and they would know what end-users would see.
>> Nonsense.
> I am not sure how you can call what I say nonsense. I find this rather  
> insulting.

Sorry. I did not mean to be insulting. However, the way you chose to
express your original statement (which isn't how you express it below),
was a statement that I still believe is "plain wrong".

[What Web design was like in the 90s - yes, I recall all that process, I
was there too, as were many others]
> I am not sure how you can call "nonsense" the fact that developers built  
> sites with a clear idea of what the site should look like.

Ah. That is not what I am calling nonsense. The fact that you could epress
what you thought your site should look like was indeed a part of the value

However, as I explained in the rest of my mail, the fact that although you
couldn't be sure it *would* look like that, but as a trade-off could be
assured that it would probably work reasonably well for the user anyway,
was also part of the value proposition (as well as being a designed goal
of the Web, and a reality).

>> This is just not correct.
>> Further explanation for those who wonder how I arrive at this  
>> conclusion:
>> It was unintentionally the case when there was one client and one  
>> server, but the *success* of the web was that anyone could write a  
>> client for it, and different clients provided different renderings -  
>> wildly different renderings.
> I may agree that this was the original concept of HTML and I may agree  
> that this romantic idea lasted a few years. But by 1995, the idea had  
> already been discarded. The industry wanted as much control as possible  
> of the visuals and this is what they got in the end (modulo hacks which  
> were and still are necessary)
>> Developers have always had *some idea* of most of the range of options,  
>> but it has been clear for more or less the entire history of the Web  
>> that developers don't know what end-users see.
> Of course, only Opera and Novarra do.

No, we don't either and I would be surprised if Novarra do.

>>> Of course, some advanced users could fiddle around with X11 settings  
>>> or define a custom CSS, but virtually nobody did. The basic point  
>>> stands.
>> So the basic point is "designers know what end-users will see unless  
>> they decide to see it differently"?
> Mud the water as much as you like, Chaals. Web production is about  
> delivering content which is as much as possible close to the visuals  
> that a communication company has created for their customer. 99.99% of  
> the site visitors will get exactly that, no matter how much fiddling  
> with CSS settings an Opera user may (but won't) do.

*SOME* production is about that. A large (and probably increasing) part of
production is about getting content and services to users so they will
read and use them, and an important trend has been to reduce the reliance
on pixel-perfect layout (since that is known to only work sometimes) and
increase the unserstanding of what the technology actually does well, and
how to take advantage of that.

>> I can accept that this is true. It seems rather different to your  
>> original statement, since the implication is "you no longer know what  
>> they will see, although you often have a fair idea about what it might  
>> be".
> I am not sure what you are referring to here.
>> Looking a little further, it turns out that browsers have had options  
>> to change rendering in other ways that are pretty simple (compared to  
>> copying a User CSS from a friend, or tweaking X11 settings). Opera  
>> always had zoom and the option to change various other rendering  
>> features in the User Interface of the browser.
> 1) Opera is about 1% market share.
> 2) the fact that Opera users may, does not mean that they usually do it.
> Relevant anecdote: in 1999, a norwegian customer raised the issue that  
> users could change the font size in Opera and disrupt the visuals. We  
> responded that Opera had such a tiny market share that he did not need  
> to bother. This was accepted.

This may or may not be true (and in some markets Opera has lower market
share, in others it is higher, up to being the leading browser in some
places) but I don't see how it is in fact relevant.

While some clients will accept a piece of design that simply annoys users
who are different from the average, others will work to make one that
tolerates such differences. In countries like the United Kingdom, failing
to anticipate needs of a diverse audience such as the requirement to
increase font sizes is now actually illegal in extreme cases, but in the
field of Web Design in general it is simply recognised as the sort of
slap-dash approach one would now only expect of an amateur.

>> Other browsers changed text size (which has a significant effect on  
>> layout with images, since the realtive size of images to text is itself  
>> changed), and offered other basic features from the interface.  
>> Likewise, since the dominant paradigm for computing became the "WIMP"  
>> interface, such systems have generally provided simple ways to change  
>> basic presentation settings - a trend that has increased over time.
> a trend that does not change the basic fact that 99.99% of the users  
> will get to see the same exact content regardless of the browser they  
> use.
>> CSS has been moderately successful on the web, and the premise (and  
>> very clear reality as the web exploded in the late 90s) is that while  
>> an author might provide a "preferred" rendering, clearly that wouldn't  
>> always suit the user or even be implemented by the browser, so it was  
>> necessary to ensure that the effort of providing the content to the  
>> user didn't fail when the author's preferred presentation wasn't what  
>> the user chose (by various different means).
> this is a romantic vision that does not have anything to do with the  
> reality of mobile development. Again, developers have gone, go and will  
> go out of their way to ensure that the websites they build look the same  
> on each and every major browser in the market.

In their default setup, which one expects a large majority of users to
simply accept the default for whatever they have. With a clear
understanding that in some number of cases, if the site cannot adapt to
the needs of users they will walk away from it.

Which in turn leads to a "pragmatic" decision about how important those
users are and how hard it is to do web design that takes account of them.

Of course this decision is generally informed by individuals looking to
maximise return on investment, and with somewhat differing goals (make a
cheap website vs get paid a lot to make a website being an obvious
example) as well as different levels of skill and understsnding.

>>> Clear rules are those that convinced people and companies to invest  
>>> resources (be it time or money) to create web content.
>>> This must be maintained also for mobile. If you want web content to be  
>>> available to mobile users, the way to go is to enable content owners  
>>> to "mobilize" their web content, both technologically and by creating  
>>> enough incentive for them to do so.  Reformatting content behind their  
>>> backs (or even against their will) is not the way to go. It is simply  
>>> cheating and it will lead to chaos.
>> 20+ million Opera Mini users don't seem to agree with you. Banks like  
>> Barclays, who think about the security of their customers before they  
>> recommend what to do (use Opera Mini) and what not to (click on links  
>> in email that has been designed to be nicely formatted), appear not to  
>> agree with you either.
> I have already repeated ad-nauseam that users are not in the position to  
> decide that the right of content owners can be ignored.

And accepted that in various cases that is not true, as far as I can see,
in the case of your purported right if the content owner to determine

The web has never properly supported that use case, and has been designed
with the active intention to allow more detailed expression of what
content owners would like the user to see, along with simpler ways for
users not to see it thus.

> Users love to download free music and movies from the internet. This  
> does not make p2p downloads a fair and legitimate practice.

Nor does it make the use of P2P technology per se somehow illegal or
wrong. The real world is not such a simple place.

>> So who exactly is being "cheated" here? Enabling people to use the Web,  
>> and making it look "as far as possible" like other websites (given the  
>> limitations of some devices that is a chellenge, but many browsers  
>> including Mini have been marketed on their ability to do this) doesn't  
>> seem *to me* to be cheating those first-time web users, nor those who  
>> already use a site and can now access it in new ways.
> Did Opera ask those sites "is it ok if I transform your content?". Was  
> the answer "yes, it is OK. Please go ahead"?

No, but Opera can be assumed to have asked asked the sites "will you
provide your HTML source to our browser to render for a user?" And the
answer was yes.

In some cases (like Barclays), without asking anything, they said to the
people they expect as users, "We recommend you use Opera Mobile or Opera

> you see, the burden of demonstrating that copyright owners have not been  
> cheated is on transcoders and whoever deploys them.

For your argument to hold water, it should demonstrate that someone has
been cheated.

>> Although it is possible to block specific user agents, we don't see  
>> people who we know block various browsers often choose to do that to  
>> OPera Mini - it appears that in general they are happy to have further  
>> ways for their users to reach them.
> really? this is an interesting remark, because some companies were  
> really mad at your friends at ByteMobile who were transcoding and  
> replacing the original UA string with the one of Opera-Mini. Shall I ask  
> those companies to report about their experience here?

If you like. I don't expect everyone to appreciate everything that
happens. I know that some companies preferred to work with people like
Rotan, who allow them to provide highly targetted adaptations to a huge
range of particular devices, and *do* block Opera.

>>> Some applications are naturally mobile only (think ringtone/wallpapers  
>>> downloads). Some are web only. And some are a mixture of both. Content  
>>> owners will know. Not Novarra and not Opera.
>> Well, installing Opera Mini is something that might leap to mind as an  
>> example, no? And it turns out that we do know a few things about how  
>> people do that, since millions of people have done it from our website.
> I talk about content owners (whose rights are being crushed). You keep  
> referring to "users" who like Opera Mini. There is not much progress to  
> be made in this discussion if you keep avoiding the basic point.

Is the basic point "users don't have the right to determine how they see
the web, they are required to accept something expressed by content
owners"? I am not avoiding it, I have adressed it a number of times. I
think that assertion is simply wrong.

>>> The way Opera is trying to "enforce" convergence now is messy and  
>>> tries to replace what content owners have created with a bastardized  
>>> version of it.
>> This seems odd. You may choose to disbelieve me since I work for Opera,  
>> but let me offer an explanation of what Opera thinks it is doing, from  
>> soneone who works for the company and has access to such information.
>> We're not interested in "enforcing" ways to use content. We are trying  
>> to offer users access to content and services in a way that suits them,  
>> on wahtever platform suits them. We have worked hard to expand the ways  
>> users can intereact with content on a wide range of devices, providing  
>> full-screen overview with intelligent zooming to Opera Mini and mobile,  
>> offering an *optional* mobile view ("Small Screen Rendering" which  
>> splits it to one column) to users of almost all Opera products (mobile,  
>> mini, desktop, ...). We provide User Agent strings and device  
>> identifiers in headers so developers know what they are getting the  
>> request from, and *can* adapt it should they feel the need.
> so, two questions:
> 1) where do the rights of content owners fit in this?

As far as I can tell, you have failed to demonstrate that content owners
have a right to a particular default presentation being rendered by all
the tools that they allow to view their content. Further, you have failed
to demonstrate that they even believe that this is something that will
happen. Instead you have accepted that in a known set of circumstances it
won't happen, and that in at least some of those circumstances, this is
fine. And you have failed to explain the distinction that makes it fine in
some circumtances, but not others.

> 2) why have you licensed your technology to ByteMobile?

Because we are a software company, and we license technology to people who
think they have a good use case for it and want to buy it.

> they are using the UA string of Opera-Mini to disguise the real device  
> UA and fool websites which may have a carefully built mobile site  
> (ByteMobile provides OperaMini headers which do not represent the ones  
> in the real device).

Are they providing this to end users, or is this a service they were
contracted to provide? If the latter case, do you know why they are
fulfilling the terms of the contract?

(Without that information, this discussion can go nowhere as far as I can

>>> As I wrote in the past, transcoding (be it proxy-based, server-side or  
>>> client side) is very similar to those on-line translators. While  
>>> automated translation may be useful to users in some cases, this does  
>>> not imply that you can:
>>> - place a translator in the middle of HTTP as a proxy
>> Sure you can, in a technical sense. In practice, services such as this  
>> exist, and people choose to use them sometimes in order to be able to  
>> get some access to content that they otherwise can't use. Whether they  
>> use this always, sometimes, or never, is a choice that users make.
> right. And this should be the way. If you place a transcoder in the  
> middle of all HTTP requests, it is no longer the case. 99% non techie  
> users will end up using the translator all the time because they don't  
> even understand what is going on.
>> Technically I presume it is possible to block translating services from  
>> a website, but I would be surprised if many content providers thought  
>> it was even an interesting possibility. There are multiple reasons why  
>> Search Engine Optimisation is an industry, but one of them is because  
>> many Content providers *want users*.
> correct.
> When a transcoder removed the banners which pay the site's bills,  
> content providers do not want transcoders.
> When a transcoder changes a site's look and feel, content providers do  
> not want transcoders.
>> Rendering web pages (which is what Opera Mini does) turns out to be  
>> something that browser developers generally know how to do (because  
>> that is what browsers do). It would seem that people are reasonably  
>> happy with the rendering options that Opera Mini provides - both  
>> developers and users.
> I disagree. OperaMini (and other transcoders) attempts to render web  
> content. Sometimes the results are good. Sometimes they are really bad.  
> Users will go back to sites that transcode well and ignore those which  
> don't. This is not a proof that transcoding is always good for users  
> either. A lot of times it isn't.

Without real analysis, the difference between "some" and "a lot" is
meaningless. Just saying...

I have not argued that Opera Mini is somehow universally good. I am
arguing in this case that a number of people have seen fit to use it, and
to keep using ait and increase their usage of it, and that this
demonstrates that it does something they consider beneficial to them.

In paticular, I have argued that what it seems Opera Mini does which they
consider a benefit, is present web sites in the way the original
developers hoped they would be presented.

>> Are you telling me those people are *wrong* because they have chosen a  
>> service that suits them? (We don't force anyone to use Mini. We offer  
>> it, in a free market, and millions choose to take up the offer by  
>> actively installing and actively opening and using it).
> Again, the fact that users may like it does not mean that you can  
> transcode legitimately.

Agreed. Nor does the fact that people like it mean you can make ice-cream
legitimately. (I think the arguments are a reasonable parallel).

The basic discussion here has been whether it is legitimate to provide a
distributed rendering service. I don't see any convincing argument that it
isn't. (right at the end you actually introduce an issue I think is far
more interesting).

>> These might mean that for many producers it is less cost-effective to  
>> do specific server-side adaptation than to provide something that can  
>> be rendered by many different web clients in a reasonable way (what  
>> browser does the fellow on the Clapham Omnibus use, anyway?). Different  
>> people, including content producers, have wildly differing expectations  
>> of how important their preferred presentation is, with some choosing  
>> technologies that pretty much force it into line (like flash) at the  
>> expense of limited distribution, and others choosing technology that  
>> implies wider distribution at the expense of total control over  
>> presentation (like the Web). Yet others choose a mix of some  
>> server-side adaptation, and assuming some adaptation on the client (the  
>> Web, again).
> you may be right that different companies have different expectations,  
> but the fact remains that you cannot create derivative work of content  
> with owner's consent. Assuming that you have the right only because  
> nobody said no in advance is not going to cut it.
>> The Web is built on the two premises that anyone can produce a web  
>> page, and anyone can produce a browser to look at it in a way that  
>> suits someone.
> You are mudding the water. There are only 4 or 5 browser vendors with  
> non-negligible market share in this world. There are millions of  
> websites. I am not sure how you can place those two groups at the same  
> level and keep a straight face.
>> That's why W3C works so hard to ensure the development of open and free  
>> standards.
> Open and free standards which steamroll the requests from a whole  
> ecosystem to serve the purpose of a few commercial companies that paid  
> the ticket to seat at the W3C table. Pardon me, but this is not my  
> definition of open standards.

Would you suggest, perhaps that the process by which WML was developed is
somehow more open? I don't think W3C is a perfect organisation, but I
think its record on responding to public comment, even ill-informed and
deliberately vexatious public comment, is extremely good by comparison to
many similar organisations.

I think characterising the patience of the people reading this thread as
"steamrolling the requests from a whol ecosystem" is to seriously
misunderstand what is happening, to underestimate the intelligence of the
audience, to insult their motives and the work that they do, and to
confuse the idea of commenting with the idea of representation.

>> It is known that this results in different approaches to rendering that  
>> produce different results. People have worked very hard to *ensure*  
>> that web browsers provide flexibility in the way things are viewed, and  
>> the technology is clearly designed *not* to enforce a particular  
>> presentation.
> the way the web works today is that virtually every content owner goes  
> out of their way to enforce a particular presentation. You can ignore  
> this only if you are in bad faith.

Or if you are trying to present something that won't work "as-is" to the  
user, who has gone out of their way to look for it. Google, for example,  
massively distorts the presentation it provides to users, and yet you seem  
to accept that in this case it is a service.

I think that you can, in good faith, change presentation in many ways,  
although there are some specific things that you should not do. I have  
tried to get from general ranting to a focused discussion of the specific  
real issues.

>> Whether the adaptations are done on the server side (which is one of  
>> the things the technology is designed to allow), or somewhere between  
>> teh server and the end-user (which is another thing the technology is  
>> designed to allow) depends on both the content producer and the content  
>> consumer. Each one has the ability to choose what they do - and so  
>> thoughtful web developers take this into account rather than simply  
>> imagining they can somehow control exactly what the user sees.
> I suspect your thoughtful web developer will soon be an unemployed web  
> developer.

Maybe. But many of the developers I meet who are regarded as leaders in  
their field seem to follow my reasoning (more accurately, it is a  
restatement of what they say and do).

>> So, if your point is really "Web developers have total control over  
>> presentation", I think you are flying in the face of reality.
> I am saying:
>  "1) Content owners demand total control over presentation, and
>   2) their developers go out of their way to give it to them and
>   3) it is absolutely their right to do so (corollary: and it is not  
> fair to ask them to change their content only because it serves the need  
> of Opera and Novarra to have more stuff to transcode)."
> and of course, I am not flying in the face of any reality. I am just  
> saying things as they are.

That Web developers make a big effort to do something is not the same as  
them doing it. So if they don't deliver total control (which is precisely  
the situation you are complaining about) then saying they do flies in the  
face of the reality that you are so upset about.

Asserting a right is a pretty bold statement of "things as they are".  
Asserting the right to want something (which you do here) is far different  
 from asserting an absolute right to have it (which is the implication in  
most of your contribution to this discussion).

So your statement here about what content providers generally want  
(besides not matching my experience - perhaps smaller than yours but with  
real clients in the real world) does not equate to your earlier statements  
that content developers *have* total control, and that this is a natural  
feature of the web.

(And making incorrect assertions about what Opera wants demonstrates that  
you are in fact making some stuff up and saying it is "the way things  

>> There is a rather more subtle and significantly more interesting point  
>> you have alluded to from time to time in this particular bout of  
>> windmill-tilting, which is to do with the advisability of making it  
>> invisible to the website what the client actually is and does. Perhaps  
>> that case is actually worth discussing.
> well, I have started a whole crusade against UA spoofing back in 2007. I  
> wouldn't refer to it as "alluding from time to time". More like  
> "shouting that transcoders and operators should keep their hands off  
> third-party content and HTTP"

Whatever - I should not have gone into your manner of expression I suppose.

The point is that UA-spoofing is a specific issue that is not the same as  
transcoding in general. And one that I think is actually worth the time to  



Charles McCathieNevile  Opera Software, Standards Group
       je parle français -- hablo español -- jeg lærer norsk
http://my.opera.com/chaals       Try Opera: http://www.opera.com

Received on Thursday, 19 March 2009 17:25:29 UTC

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