A recent add-on for popular web browsers is claimed to help you avoid accidentally visiting the websites of the Daily Mail or Daily Express. With the new tool, if you click a link that would take you to one of those sites, you are instead redirected to a site featuring nothing but pictures of tea and kittens. Say hello to Kitten Block.
Browsing the internet can be a perilous activity at the best of times. Following hyperlinks – a vital ingredient in the success of the internet- used to be fairly straight-forward. Whether you saw a link to Argos or the BBC, you knew whither you were headed should you click that link.
But increasingly, particularly in the worlds of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, links are ‘shortened’. A pointer is used to redirect you to the link in question, saving those all-important characters in an online world where brevity has become necessity rather than choice.
Twitter limits users to Tweets of no more than 140 characters, which helped to spawn a number of services that take the very long page addresses common on websites, and shortens them to something more manageable. Shortened, http://www.newstatesman.com/global-issues/2011/09/afghanistan-iraq-west-world becomes http://bit.ly/nwRw6l.
Both links take you to exactly the same page. That’s great for brevity, but terrible for transparency. You no longer know, seeing only the Bit.ly link, where clicking it might take you.
Spammers, marketers and other ne’er-do-wells have exploited this ‘trick’, using the trust of the reader to get them to click a link in good faith, only to discover it takes them somewhere unexpected – the likely destinations being dodgy sites that are often pornographic or virus-ridden.
But a nifty add-on for Firefox, Chrome or Safari web browsers, called Kitten Block [https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/kitten-block/], promises to protect you from accidentally visiting at least two sites – The Daily Mail and The Daily Express. Instead, clicking on a link to one of those sites redirects you to www.teaandkittens.co.uk, a site built by technology journalist Tom Royal and featuring, you guessed it, tea and kittens.
Royal, who also built Kitten Block, explains:
“When using the internet in the UK it’s almost impossible to avoid occasionally accessing the website of one or the other [Mail or Express], even if one finds their political and social outlook unpleasant or offensive. KittenBlock is designed to solve this problem. It performs one simple function: if the browser is directed to either website it will be redirected instead to a selection of photos from http://www.teaandkittens.co.uk.“
In fact with web browsers such as Internet Explorer, it’s possible to block sites [http://www.wikihow.com/Block-a-Website-in-Internet-Explorer-7] you would rather not visit using your browser’s security settings. But while that will block those sites, it won’t automatically give you tea and kittens instead.
So there you have it – the combined online might of Paul Dacre and Richard Desmond stopped in their tracks by tea and kittens.
Jason Stamper is technology correspondent of the New Statesman and editor of Computer Business Review.