Dear Facebook, please fix the internet

Facebook is the most visited website on the internet, followed closely by Google, but do you know what domains come right after Google? More Facebook, or rather more accurately, the domains that serve up data for Facebook “like” buttons.

Check out this list of the most visited websites. Notice how there is a corresponding https version of most of the regular http sites? While that is a great thing when things like user credentials, or email content are being transmitted over the intertubes, a great deal of the information zipping through the cloud can be sent in the clear without the extra processing and delays introduced by SSL/TLS encryption.

So why does Facebook force the entire internet to process its information unsecured once, and then a second time over https? There is a prescribed method for adding a “like” button for a Facebook Fan page to a website. You copy and paste a little bit of code into the page, which asks for some javascript from Facebook, and allows people to like the page in question. Facebook maintains that code, and periodically updates it, but the current version of that code makes two separate requests for some data.

http://static.ak.facebook.com/connect/xd_arbiter.php?version=18
https://s-static.ak.facebook.com/connect/xd_arbiter.php?version=18

That second request means that you must download the same piece of information twice, and the second time it has to go through secure channels. How much longer does this take?

It’s hard to tell, exactly. Pingdom speed test tells me that it takes about 350mS to retrieve the extra 9.3kB, but GTmetrix tells me it actually takes over 600mS, and Google Page Speed tells me the file actually weighs in at 24.9kB.

While it may seem small to quibble over amounts to, literally, a split-second of your time, think about the fact that this happens every time that stupid “like” button, which is on the majority of websites on the internet, is loaded.

For example, the Gawker media network, composed of Gawker, Lifehacker, Deadspin, etc. is currently serving 17 million page views a day. 17 million. A. Day. They all have a “like” button.

Lets be conservative, and say that it only takes 300mS on average for that data to find itself on a user’s computer. That means, that, on any given day, Facebook costs readers of Gawker Media collectively 150GB of data and upwards of 59 days of extra time.

What does that mean in real-world numbers though?

Using a wild guess as to the power consumption of the average PC, the price of electricity in New York (Gawker’s headquarters) and a healthy application of Loudifier Fuzzy Math (patent pending), the power costs of those extra requests cost Gawker readers a whopping $17 every day!

Okay, so maybe it’s not as big a deal as I originally thought, but it still screws up my Page Speed score, which can affect Google search ranking. It is supremely annoying that I can turn an ancient laptop into a web server for $0, and serve a full page over a consumer-grade connection in under a second, but loading assets from an organization with millions of dollars invested in hardware and infrastructure almost doubles my page load times. Granted, the big F handles a couple more requests per day than I do, and about 20% of this site’s traffic comes from Facebook. I guess I can wait for them to throw me a bone now and then.

Even if it isn’t a huge problem, I still think they should fix it on principle alone. Those wasted CPU cycles could be put to better use, like searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Using the same Fuzzy Math™ as before, if the computing time that Gawker readers devoted to downloading unnecessary data from Facebook were instead used to simulate protein folding, it could boost the total output of the Folding@Home project by about 10%.

Think about that for a second. By wasting your CPU cycles, Facebook is trying to give you Alzheimer’s. The logic is infallible.

tell Washington that you want to unlock your phone

Whether you actually want to or not, it’s always good to send a message. When the Librarian of Congress made some really odd (read: “dumb”) decisions regarding an end-user’s freedoms to hack devices that they paid for and own outright, the interwebs was abuzz. Now that those rules have actually taken effect, people are realizing that those freedoms, especially the extremely practical carrier-unlocking of cell phones, means more to them than they previously thought.

Now, if you want to avoid breaking any laws, you need permission from your carrier to unlock your phone; a request your carrier will usually flat-out deny, or may even charge you for the privilege of accessing the full capabilities of a device that you own.

Let’s say you have an iPhone 4 on AT&T, and you upgrade to a shiny new iPhone 5. You want to use your iPhone 4 with one of those super-cheap prepaid plans T-Mobile has been advertising lately. You can ask AT&T for an unlock code for your iPhone 4, and they will tell you exactly where you can stick your phone. Good luck asking Apple for help. “Oh, you want to access all of your phone’s functionalities? What will you ask for next? Homescreen widgets? Alternate default apps? You just don’t understand our minimalist genius.”

Imagine buying a Jeep, and having to ask Chrysler if you can put a lift kit on it and go off-roading. It simply wouldn’t be tolerated. I don’t need permission from Sony to power speakers they made with a custom-built amplifier, and if asked why I want to do so my only answer may be “Because I can”.

This site is devoted to DIY, and jealously protective of “Because I can”. You may be fine with getting locked in to an overpriced cell phone plan from an overbearing carrier, but are you okay with being told in what ways you are allowed to use a device that you paid for?

Tell Washington that you don’t appreciate technological advances, competitive business models, and the freedoms of the end-user (that’s you) being hobbled by outdated, misguided law. Sign the petition to Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal.

Things I learned from Superbowl commercials

  1. No matter how ridiculous and impossible they get, I still want to watch all the Fast and Furious movies.
  2. “Tonight” by Fun. sounds as dumb in Spanish as it does in English.
  3. Oprah + Jeep isn’t as cool as Clint Eastwood + Chrysler.
  4. A GoPro is approximately ten times cooler when you strap it to a baby’s head, and then throw the baby in the air.