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.

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.

Holy DMCA, Batman

From the period of January 2013 to December 2015, it will be illegal to rip music from a legally purchased CD. It will be basically against the law to actually use an iPod.

iPod sad face

Something is terribly wrong.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was conceived in 1998, deep in the reptilian hindbrains of our beloved legislators, to try and put fences and rules around something that they fundamentally didn’t understand: computers. The law basically says that, even if you pay for something, you are not allowed to make copies of it. This may have sounded like a logical rule at the time. After all, if you photocopy an entire book, and give it to a friend, you are breaking copyright law. The idea was, if you buy a CD, burn a copy, and then give it to a friend that is the same as photocopying a book. 

The problem with the DMCA, is that the law specifically states that it is illegal to circumvent software designed to prevent the copying intellectual properties. Again, this sounds like a reasonable rule, except the law was written before the invention of the iPod, or the ability to purchase mp3s online. Though most people don’t know it, most CDs have for a long time had copy protection schemes built-in, that hugely popular media programs like iTunes and Windows Media Player completely ignore. Enter the iPod, and suddenly everyone wants to rip music from CDs, to be played on their handy dandy mp3 players. Until relatively recently, buying an mp3 on the internet just wasn’t possible, and the only way to get an mp3 legally was to rip them from CDs. Now, most people’s music collections are in CD format, and ripping them to mp3 will soon be against the law.

There are groups that lobby to the Librarian of Congress to allow exceptions be made to the rules of the DMCA for specific cases. For some reason, this time around, the Librarian decided to not allow the ripping of content from CDs or DVDs for any reason. This means that if you transfer music from a CD to your computer, to your iPod, to Google Play, you are breaking the law.

SOPA was a bad idea, for a number of reasons, but primarily because it would have set up an American version of the Great Firewall of China, and allowed the government and certain groups of people the ability to break parts of the internet at will. Because they tried to pass SOPA in 2012, when most people know just how bad an idea it is. The DMCA however, was passed by people who didn’t understand what they were doing, at a time when nobody knew enough to care and oppose it.

In this cloud-happy modern age, when it is less and less clear when you actually own something you have paid for, or you are merely being provided a service designed to feel like ownership, we need to have new laws that are clear, and not subject to change, regarding exactly what your rights are when you purchase music. If I buy a CD in a store, I should own it, and be able to damn well do what I please with it. As long as I don’t give away a copy of the music to someone else, I should be able to rip the music to my computer, burn a copy of the CD, transfer it to my iPod, back it up to Dropbox, or stream it via Spotify. 

While the European Union is granting the end users of purchased content more rights, American law is right now feeling very antiquated, is slow to respond to, and refuses to understand new technologies.

I’m sticking to the effects the new rules have on your ability to do what you want with your music collection, but Ars Technica has a great write up of just how confused and bass-ackwards the whole thing is.