I am not often completely shocked when I am reading online, but this evening was an exception to this pattern. Since I linked to my September 2003 article “Digital Literacy NOW!” in the previous post, I decided to re-read the article in its entirety to check the content.

Boy am I ever glad I did.

There was a link on the page, which I will NOT reference or mention here, to an extremely offensive and inappropriate website. Apparently that website domain had expired and was purchased by someone else… and since I hadn’t reviewed the links on that article for five years, a direct link to an offensive/inappropriate website was available on one of my own articles. Yikes! Needless to say, I immediately downloaded that page, deleted the offending link, and re-uploaded it to overwrite the offending version.

Beware of outdated links!

I also found an instance, in the same article, of a link I had created using the mailto: URI syntax to my current email address. That was, at one time, a popular way to link email addresses on webpages, since it allows people to click the link and automatically have a blank email message open in the computer’s default email application.

It is a VERY bad idea to use that syntax on webpages containing your email address these days, however, since email spambots have proliferated which act as “spiders” or web crawlers, collecting email addresses on websites and then using and/or selling them to unscrupulous spammers. Don’t get enough spam email now? Have friends who don’t get enough spam? Consider putting up some webpages with the mailto: URI. If you do, you’re sure to up your daily allotment of email spam.

When you list your email address on a website, or others do, it is best to either use an image of the email address (without a descriptive “alt” tag) or use syntax like “myuserID [at] host [dot] edu.” That’s the syntax I use on my own contact form now. Some sites, like this one, will simply list the userIDs of individuals and explain at the top of the page what hostname should be appended after the “@” symbol in the email address. That works (based on my limited knowledge of spambots) as well to avoid this situation of coded spam entrapment.

I suppose one lesson here is, “Be careful where you link.” Even if the website you link to TODAY is appropriate, that’s not to say the website won’t be taken over by someone else down the road.

It’s quite a dynamic world we live in, isn’t it?!

As students author and post more text, media and links online, it is a good idea to make them aware of the dangers of posting links, either intentionally or unintentionally, to inappropriate or offensive websites. I remember in the mid-1990s in my public school district, a high school teacher let a student directly upload webpages to the school website… The student included a link to another student’s personal website, and can you believe it… That personal website included a link to some websites “someone” considered offensive or inappropriate. The result for teachers in the district? As I recall, we were ALL then prohibited from directly uploading webpages to the district’s server, and instead had to send each and every file we wanted to upload to the district’s webmaster who served as the all-powerful content gatekeeper.

The implications of that “one link” posted by that high school student were far reaching.

Be careful where you link, and where your students link.

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On this day..

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  • http://transparentlearning.blogspot.com/ Bethany Smith

    My first ever experience as a webmaster was for a quilt group I belonged to. I will never forget the day that I was tracked down by a number of “old biddies” about a link on our site that went to an unfavorable site!

    Although I was devastated at the time, and learned the hard way to check my links often, I still chuckle a bit to think of them looking for the latest in quilting gadgets and see what they found!

    On a more serious note – it is not until one experiences this lesson first hand that you ever really take the time to check. Before it seemed tedious – now it seems mandatory.

  • http://www.everythingaboutlearning.com Trina

    Another way to protect your posted email, while leaving your readers with one-click mailto ability, is to mask the email with Javascript. Of course, the spambots will probably find a way around that one eventually, too, if they haven’t already…

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