Boost for web content labelling


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May 24, 2005
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Boost for web content labelling

Internet searching: Users can not usually identify the suitability of web content just from search results, said Segala chief Paul Walsh

Technology firm Segala is spearheading an initiative to help internet users identify trusted web content through a comprehensive labelling system.

Irish-based Segala has been developing content labels for more than two years and is now in talks with major web organisations and publishers to roll out the service for a number of applications.

Different content labels could be developed for different uses, although three of the most significant applications could be for labelling sites that meet accessibility standards for web users with disabilities; blogs that have signed up to a set of agreed editorial standards; and adult content.

Sites that have signed up to agreed editorial standards would display a small logo in search results and different content labels would have different logos. The logo could also be displayed on the site itself.

Segala co-founder and chief exectutive Paul Walsh, who is running the content labels operation as a separate non-commercial project, said that users can not usually identify the suitability of web content just from search results, so end up clicking through to sites that may not be appropriate.

The scheme has already been approved by W3C, the global body that develops guidelines and standards for the web.

W3C's semantic web education and outreach group has agreed to formally back and promote content labels, and Mr Walsh has also had interest from telecoms firm Verisign, AOL and Microsoft.

Mr Walsh added that the content labels scheme will reach mass adoption within the next two years.

"Today, you have to land on a site before you see a trust mark but content labels can be detected by search or by the browser," he said.

"This isn't about policing the internet, it's about enabling users to make an informed choice."

Dermot O'Mahony, the head of online content for T-Mobile, described content labels as "the holy grail" the web sector has been looking for.

"Everyone with a website wants to be seen as legitimate service provider. For businesses, this enables them to build trust and ensure that they don't get lost in the noise of the internet. For the user, it means a real feeling of control," Mr O'Mahony said.

The main hurdles to mass adoption are awareness among consumers and integration with search and web browsing tools, he added.

"Search companies need to take ownership of this and take a stand to make sure that content is safe and responsible," Mr O'Mahony said.

At the moment, web users need to install the "search thresher" extension for the Firefox browser to identify sites with content labels.

Ultimately, that function is likely to be combined in all web browsers although as more sites adopt labelling, search engines will begin to include a content label field in search options.

Mr Walsh is also talking to UK blogging platform Terapad about creating an approved accessibility free blogging service, as well as helping to develop an ethics committee for blogging services.

The labelling system could also work for medical websites, which could sign up to a code of conduct and professional practice with verification by a medical authority.

A UN-funded Swiss organisation, the Health on the Net Foundation, already provides free, independent verification of medical websites.

The chancellor, Gordon Brown, last week unveiled a separate scheme by Ofcom to classify digital media output that will aim to help parents identify unsuitable content.

Jemima Kiss
Monday March 19, 2007
Guardian Unlimited
Guardian News and Media Limited 2007