Comments on Sniff browser history for improved user experience Niall Kennedy's home on the web 2012-07-02T14:52:24Z http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/2008/02/browser-history-sniff.atom Niall Kennedyhttp://www.niallkennedy.com/blog@niallkennedy.com http://st.niallkennedy.com/icon32.png http://st.niallkennedy.com/niall.jpg Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 United States By: Robin Wilton Robin Wilton http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/2008/02/browser-history-sniff.html#comment-2292 2010-02-15T14:25:38Z 2010-02-15T14:25:38Z Interesting. I can see that, used “benevolently” the techniques you describe might indeed result in a more ‘personalised’ user experience, but I can see two potential issues:

1 – it seems to me that you blur the distinction (or at least, are happy to let the blurring persist) between ‘personalized according to what the user would choose if they were able’ and ‘personalized according to the interests of the website owner’ – which are two entirely different things.

2 – I’m not at all clear how the techniques you describe differ from ‘obtaining unauthorized access to computer systems’ – which as far as I know is an offense in most US states and many countries elsewhere. Even basic Data Protection principles stipulate that data collected for one purpose may not be used for another – and yet here you are encouraging people to do exactly that, and showing them how.

Still – I have a certain admiration for your frankness in publishing all this.

You have probably raised awareness of some of the risks, and done a lot to encourage some users to disable JavaScript in their browsers…

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By: Adrian Scott Adrian Scott http://www.adrianscott.com/ http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/2008/02/browser-history-sniff.html#comment-2291 2010-02-15T14:22:16Z 2010-02-15T14:22:16Z Clever work, nicely done! ;)

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By: Mike Griffith Mike Griffith http://www.mike-griffith.com/ http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/2008/02/browser-history-sniff.html#comment-2290 2010-01-14T07:44:40Z 2010-01-14T07:44:40Z For anyone looking for an implementation of this, I’ve created a module for use in the Dojo javascript framework:

Browser history sniffing with Dojo

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By: Paul Elia Paul Elia http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/2008/02/browser-history-sniff.html#comment-2289 2009-03-19T13:07:54Z 2009-03-19T13:07:54Z I’m over a year late to this blog party but I wanted to say great job, Niall.  This is a very clever way to learn more about your visitor and to have an option to do something based on the discoveries made.
Regarding JavaScript, we are moving towards 100% JavaScript required websites in our work. We have been testing and the numbers are in the upper 90% range for JavaScript support. A much more rewarding experience can be had by all with JavaScript enabled user agents and the coding is so much simpler for what we do. We no longer spend the extra 90% effort to pick up the last 2% of the visitors, at least for the websites that are time-limited in nature which is most of what we do. For ones that are supposed to last indefinitely then, yes, some effort is made to support user agents that do not support JavaScript.
Regarding the privacy advocates, hey, I get it, but to a point. When I physically walk into a brick and mortar store and the sales person sees me he/she is making adjustments for how to interact with me based on judgments and assessments of my sex, race, dress, mannerisms, etc. Maybe I’m wearing a T-shirt with some message on it that may or may not reveal what I really think about the topic. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways the sales person could make use of the information and his/her interpretation of it. If he/she wants to make a sale then the appropriate ones will be used to better match what I am seeking with what he/she has to offer.
A benevolent use of the technique you described is to likewise enhance online user experiences.

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By: Joe Joe http://www.joesmap.com http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/2008/02/browser-history-sniff.html#comment-2288 2008-03-20T09:03:10Z 2008-03-20T09:03:10Z I think you have come up with some cool uses for scanning browser history, glad to see these powers being used for instead of the evil that marketing sites employ them for, It would be cool if there were a way to do a wildcard search, such as any history urls that contain digg could bring up that link.. I visit digg daily, but never through the dot com, always a sub page found via my netvibes reader. I could see this being more valuable with some sort of wildcard sniffing.

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By: nok nok http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/2008/02/browser-history-sniff.html#comment-2287 2008-02-15T17:34:42Z 2008-02-15T17:34:42Z really really great post – and its great that the previous two comments suggest a privacy policy and then request statistic sharing. i’m curious as to the authors thoughts.i do think that the average user would occasionally clear their history so the stats would probably only show the use for that session, as was my experience. regardless this does have fantastic implications. thank you.

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By: Otis Gospodnetic Otis Gospodnetic http://blog.simpy.com/ http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/2008/02/browser-history-sniff.html#comment-2286 2008-02-11T03:08:54Z 2008-02-11T03:08:54Z Hi Niall – this is useful, thanks.Since you’ve been sniffing things for a few months, that means you also might have some stats.Got any stats on readers/bookmark services/etc.?I’d love to see it.

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By: joshnunn joshnunn http://nunnone.com/ http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/2008/02/browser-history-sniff.html#comment-2285 2008-02-10T20:40:36Z 2008-02-10T20:40:36Z I’m not sure I’m OK with this as a user – but I can’t deny that it’d make the overload of ID managers/bookmark services/sharing sites a whole lot less cluttered. This is the kind of thing that every big web company wants to do, but can’t get away with – but wouldn’t our online lives be simpler if we sometimes got over our paranoia and let them? Maybe you should implement (and advocate) a privacy policy to go with the use of this script – something that says “I use this data only to enhance the user experience and no data is stored on my servers”. I think that might go a way to alleviate your visitors concerns about their privacy.

And Kyle Bennett: I think you’re ahead of yourself. I had NoScript turned on for 6 months about a year ago, and found that too much of the web was suddenly cut off for me by default. I’m a fairly security savvy user, and I had to turn it off – Ma and Pa aren’t even going to try it in the first place.

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By: nikki nikki http://kaelisspace.com/ http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/2008/02/browser-history-sniff.html#comment-2284 2008-02-10T16:43:33Z 2008-02-10T16:43:33Z The problem with this type of sniffing for social bookmarking is that many of use use Google Reader, or another tool for our RSS feeds, and thus don’t visit the homepage of the site daily. I regularly read several of the feeds that were tested, but none of them showed up until I clicked the links to go to the main page.Plus, honestly, I find it a bit invasive. Not bothered enough to mess with my link styles, but I can’t say I find it nice at all.Personalization should be an opt-in, not something that people do under the table, if that makes sense.

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By: Zach Heaton Zach Heaton http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/2008/02/browser-history-sniff.html#comment-2283 2008-02-09T01:17:11Z 2008-02-09T01:17:11Z This technique definitely crosses the line for me as a user – page history is not something that I expect my browser to expose to the world, and I’m going to have second thoughts about visiting a site I discover using something like this.Fortunately, the fix in this case is a one-line user-defined CSS file –  “a:visited {color:blue !important}” breaks all of the test cases quite nicely.

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