Even Digg can't make framing acceptable

The DiggBar will no longer be seen if you aren't logged into Digg

Yesterday, Digg bowed to the criticism of its new DiggBar and announced some big changes. Writing on the official Digg blog, John Quinn announced that if you're not logged in to Digg you won't see the bar.

The same applies to Digg users who disable the DiggBar. In addition, Digg is changing the way its URL forwarding works so that site owners' URLs aren't hidden behind Digg addresses.

It's great that Digg has listened to the criticism and made the changes site owners demanded, but they really should have seen this one coming. Framing - that is, wrapping other people's content in your own stuff - is evil, it's been evil for a long time, and we thought we'd booted it off the internet ten years ago.

One of the problems with framing is that it essentially adds a toolbar to your web browser. Digg isn't the only site to do it - StumbleUpon does it, and Facebook does it, too - but the DiggBar caused outrage because if a Digg user sent you a shortened link, they were sending you the toolbar, too.

Fancy getting an MSN toolbar whenever an MSN user sends you something interesting, or a Google one, or…? No, we didn't think so.

Why framing is A Bad Thing

It's not just the extra row of crap in your browser, though. Framing is bad for other reasons, not least because it perverts the currency of the internet: the hyperlink.

Take Facebook, for example. Click on a YouTube link that one of your friends has posted and you'll see YouTube, but your browser sees a URL beginning with "www.facebook.com". Bookmarking saves the Facebook URL, not the YouTube one.

So what happens when you load the bookmark in future? If you're logged into Facebook you get the framed page, not the YouTube page; if you're not logged in, you get Facebook asking whether you want to continue.

You'd need to be pretty deranged to believe that this benefits anybody other than Facebook.

Such URLs can ruin search results - blog a framed link and you're linking to the framer, not the page they've framed - and there's also an argument that framing is a form of copyright infringement.

Back in 1997, media firms including the Wall Street Journal and CNN sued the TotalNews website, arguing that by framing their content and sticking ads in the frame, the site was essentially ripping them off. TotalNews eventually reached a settlement with the angry publishers.

All frames and no content

To give you an idea of how silly this can get, let's go back to our YouTube bookmark. If we share the Facebook framed version on Digg, we now have two frames: the Digg one first, then the Facebook one.

If we then share the Digg link on the URL shortening service ow.ly, we get three frames: Owly, then Digg, then Facebook.

A few more shares and we've got a browser that's all frames and no content.

We don't doubt that some people would like to have Digg features or Facebook features hovering above every page they visit, and there's a solution for them.

It's called a toolbar, and it should be opt-in, not opt-out. That's exactly what the revised DiggBar will be. If sites such as Facebook want to be good internet citizens, their framing should be opt-in, too.


Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.