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December 04, 2007

ACAP unveiled

Funny... I've been on the robots@mccmedia.com mailing list for a long, long time but there's been very little traffic for the last while (like 5 years or so) to the point that I'd kinda forgotten I was on it.  Just recently it has popped back into life with the announcement of the Automated Content Access Protocol (or ACAP):

Following a successful year-long pilot project, ACAP (Automated Content Access Protocol) has been devised by publishers in collaboration with search engines to revolutionise the creation, dissemination, use, and protection of copyright-protected content on the worldwide web.

Danny Sullivan, over at Search Engine Land, explains some of the background to this development.  It is clear that this initiative was born out of a certain amount of publisher mistrust about what search engines are doing with their content - something that makes the strap line, "unlocking content for all" a bit of a misnomer.  There's an emphasis on explicitly granting permission and an attempt to move away from the current default of assuming that everything is open to indexing.

Given that none of the big search engines currently support it, one is tempted to react with a big "huh!?".  I guess it's a case of wait and see.  Maybe this will turn into robots.txt 2.0, maybe it won't... but I think that decision lies with the search engines rather than with the publishers who initiated the exercise.  As Danny puts it:

So has the entire ACAP project been a waste of time, or as Andy Beal's great headline put it when ACAP was announced last year, Publishers to Spend Half Million Dollars on a Robots.txt File? That still makes me laugh.

No, I'd say not. I think it's been very useful that some group has diligently and carefully tried to explore the issues, and having ACAP lurking at the very least gives the search engines themselves a kick in the butt to work on better standards. Plus, ACAP provides some groundwork they may want to use. Personally, I doubt ACAP will become Robots.txt 2.0 -- but I suspect elements of ACAP will flow into that new version or a successor.

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