Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hotlinking and Your Bandwidth

I discovered a most disturbing thing: a scetchy free blogging software company was providing my free desktop wallpaper to its members. But not only that, it was offering it from my website, meaning, if someone were to plug in the code the way they suggested, then every time that blogger's website showed up, it would be pulling the image from my website using my bandwidth. You can see a picture of it on my Spammy Scammers blog, where I've exposed them. Now, as you all may know, I do offer pretty, feminine free desktop wallpaper. So, as with any file, purchased or not (like an e-book), it is subject to being thrown online somewhere without the owner knowing.

Posting an image directly from another person's website is called "hotlinking" or leeching. It's when you steal an image and the bandwidth from one website and to display it on your website. Bandwidth is basically the invisible stuff you pay for that shoots from your server at your hosting company through fiber optic cables and into people's computers to allow them to view your site. That's not the exact definition, but basically what it does. You know how when Daily Candy features a website, and sometimes you can't get to it? Well, it's because it crashed because it exceeded its bandwidth. There were too many people trying to access it at once, trying to pull images and text from it just by viewing them.

You can prevent a bandwidth crash by contacting your hosting company to ask them to increase your bandwidth (and your monthly charge). Or, if you know you're going to be on Daily Candy, increase your bandwidth for that month. But if you're doing well, then you'll have to keep that bandwidth increased for good...hopefully! A hosting company that has a technical system in place to provide more bandwidth on demand (like an overdraft safety account with your bank) is MediaTemple.

So. How can you prevent Bandwidth Theft, as I call it? You can get hotlink protection, and block every domain from displaying images from your site, except domains you specify. This does not prevent people from "grabbing" images off your site, uploading them onto their servers, and displaying them. Which isn't always a bad thing for PR reasons. Social bookmarking sites like StyleHive displays and shows off your images if someone socially bookmarks one of your product pages. BUT, if you have hotlink protection and did not allow for StyleHive to be an accepted domain, then your images won't show up there for people to drool over. Get it? So just make StyleHive an accepted domain in your code for your hotlink protection.

I went the route of hotlink protection because I was getting monthly alerts from my server that I was exceeding bandwidth, but my traffic was remaining the same. Mysterious, right? I attributed it to the fact that I used to store and serve all of my images for my blog, FashionMista, on my server. As FashionMista started to pick up, particularly one image in Google Images that was doing particularly well, I was basically stealing from myself. So I got real hosting for FashionMista and started putting images over there. But, I was still getting the alerts. And now I think I know why. Hotlinking.


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