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FAQs | Technical

Content Blocking Software and Your Site

Q: We're starting an entertainment site for teenage girls. Because our site will deal in mature themes at times, we may get automatically blocked. How can I best avoid being blocked for the wrong reasons?

Censoring parts of the Internet from children is, of course, a heated debate. Most netpreneurs, while acknowledging that the blocking software has pitfalls, think that trying to get around it wouldn't be prudent. As Esther Smith [esmith@morino.org] says, "Who judges whether [your content is] responsible? Trying to get around blocking software is bad policy."

But all blocking software is not created equal. Ajay V. Gupte, agupte@vi-sys.com says, "The problem is that there are a variety of methods being used for blocking and no one solution is sufficient. Ross Stapleton-Gray [director@embassy.org] points out that there are "A number of rather irresponsible blockers, e.g., CyberSitter, well known for very broad blocking (such as the whole of the National Organization for Women site) and high opacity (one can't easily tell any of their blocking criteria). But Jeff MacConnell agrees with Esther Smith. His advice is, "Don't try to fight or try a surreptitious approach to the blocker programs, but try to work openly with or around them." [Jeff MacConnell, jeffm@crosslink.net]

Neil Edwards, [neil.edwards@abii.com] warns about the business implications inherent in controversial decisions in a politicized and uncertain climate. "If it is not fit for children, then you should not be giving them materials that their parents want blocked. Your site might end up as a test case in civil court. The administrative burden that worried consumers can add to your expense line is a burden that a start-up company does not want to have to incur."

Solutions

1. Who to contact:

  • To find out more on Content Selection criteria: The Information Classification Group's PICS link page: http://www.classify.org/pics.htm. From there, follow the "PICS Protocol" link for technical details at W3C's "Platform for Internet Content Selection" page. [Tracy Bryson, tracy@brysonweb.com]
  • Contact the netparents http://www.netparents.org/ about your site. Their site lists a growing number of blocking solutions and you can inform each blocking company about the goal of your site.
  • You might consider contacting the companies selling blocking software, and asking them what you can do. Explain what you're site's about so that they won't just be relying on automated software that looks for offensive words. If for example, Cyber Sitter says, "Sorry, we'll just block your whole site if the 'X word' shows up anywhere," you might just write them off. But you may get some insights into how it is that they rate and filter sites. From what I've read, they do a lot of the work compiling their exclusion lists manually. For added insurance avoid the trap key words in your meta-data for the web pages. This will keep the simplistic programs from blocking your site. [Ajay V. Gupte, agupte@vi-sys.com; Ross Stapleton-Gray, director@embassy.org; Seth Grimes, grimes@access.digex.net]
  • Check out http://Bolt.com. It is a community of interest site developed for teenagers by Concrete Media. They offer all kinds of content including content dealing with teenage sexuality issues. They may have some experience handling more "mature" content. [Neil Edwards, neil.edwards@abii.com]

2. It's all in the marketing:

  • Aim your marketing to attract your target while educating their parents, too. Parent groups and their proxies, the rating associations, need help in attempting to give parents useful, rational tools to guard children from exposure to many bad influences, not just pornography. By getting some advice from these folks (about their rating techniques and thresholds) and taking a professional, up-front approach to market your offering of content (which is, after all, aimed at a vulnerable demographic group), you'll break the ground needed for new offerings such as yours, while helping accommodate the fears of parents and others who see the Internet as a slimy slippery serpent. [Jeff MacConnell, jeffm@crosslink.net]
  • You might want to develop strategies for co-marketing, to ensure that a lot of word *about* your site can be found places other than your site. In an extreme case, you might want to split your own site into two or more, and use them to cross-promote with somewhat segregated content... you run the risk of 'ghettoizing' your more controversial content, but you may also feel that certain subjects *ought* to be "PG-13". [Ross Stapleton-Gray, director@embassy.org]

 

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