Web Hacks: Good or Evil

Loose notes from SXSW 2007 panel session: Web Hacks: Good or Evil

Kent Brewster Technology Evangelist, Yahoo!
Sergio Villarreal Pixel Pusher, Slide Inc

This one took an unexpected turn. Thought it would be about all of the funky work-arounds we take to accomplish this and that – and whether we should feel guilty about them – but discussion about screen scraping and Yahoo! Pipes segued naturally into discussion about implications for copyright and whether it’s enforceable. Session ended on ye olde “Copyright is dead” note, compelling arguments made. No one felt cheated; good conversation.

Technorati Tags:

Screen scraping for Peace (or at least understanding)

Mashing up the war | spiffysearch: Sucking the juice out of Yahoo! Search.

Look for JSON returns from Yahoo!, Flickr…

How to enforce copyright? All this mashing up, RSS feeds not returning headers relative to source, nothing forcing anyone to give credit… there’s going to be a blow-out when some big company gets freaked about how their content is being re-used.


JSON everywhere as a visible/viable competitor to RSS.

Intellectual property is a cquestionable concept. A fuzzy thing getting fuzzier. The only commodity left is human attention, and IP doesn’t work with the attention economy.

Suddenly, everything is hackable. Many resources out there to do your screen scraping, run it all through Yahoo! Pipes, everything is mashable, credits fall apart.


Bloggers: publish that JSON feed now. Developers: build that JSON aggregator and become the next Feedburner.

Content producers: Don’t stop writing. Difference between a writer and an author: A writer is someone who writes. An author is someone who at some point has written something. The web likes writers, not authors. It likes fresh new information. If you try to restrict the way your content is consumed, you become The Enemy. Look sharp, or the eweb will cannibalize you for spare parts.

Within Yahoo! there’s a “porn palace” – a group of people in 6’8″ cubicles, constantly reviewing and pulling content, banning accounts, just keeping kiddy porn out of Yahoo! Groups. YouTube has a similar group keeping horse fisting videos off the site. This requires an army of humans – imagine what it would take to monitor copyright.

Up to now, the skills required to do mash-ups was restricted to a technical few. But now tools like Pipes make it so easy, so available to anyone, that copyright is dead. Or at least impossible to monitor/enforce.

What happens to people trying to make money off content? They’ve been fighting that struggle for years and it’s getting worse. The people who are going to make money are the people in this room – the hackers/aggregators.

There are copyright laws to protect us, sure, but they’re being totally ignored, and there are no means to enforce them.

Cory Doctorow started giving away his content and wow – still ends up making money. It’s very tough for an artist to be paid even through the traditional channels. Chances of ever earning out your advance or making money from music is infinitesimally small already – what will really change?

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