Oh, won’t somebody please think of the children!

Please note that the PICS standard has been superseded by POWDER in 2009. The old RDF code can be included in a POWDER document, though.

A little known W3C standard is the Platform of Internet Content Selection (PICS). You can tell from the poor layout that it’s a very old standard — in fact all of its parts are from 1996 and 1997. OMG, that’s ancient! That’s even older than HTML 4, CSS, or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines!

PICS is a system for self-labeling. That raised some concerns about censorship in 1998, but governments who really want to censor their population’s internet access have found more effective ways to block content (I, for one, can recommend Tor as a countermeasure, also available as a Firefox extension, though I cannot guarantee your government approves it). So what remains is a meta element with information about your website, accompanied by a machine readable RDF/XML file.

  1. <link rel="meta" href="/pics-label.rdf" type="application/rdf+xml" title="ICRA PICS label" />
  2. <meta http-equiv="pics-label" content='(pics-1.1 "http://www.icra.org/pics/vocabularyv03/" l gen true for "http://learningtheworld.eu" r (n 0 s 0 v 0 l 1 oa 0 ob 0 oc 0 od 0 oe 0 of 0 og 0 oh 0 c 1))' />

Since in the nineties internet progress was driven by porn, PICS is mostly about child protection, although it can be used to describe a machine readable privacy statement and other things as well. Think of an early predecessor of the Semantic Web. Or in microformats it would be hPorn. Well, I assume very few of you run xxx sites, so why am I wasting your time with this post?

Because the PICS standard is most convenient when your website is not pornographic. The standard provides a way to label your website and distinguish between pictures of naked people as Greek ancient sculptures, in an educational or journalistic context, or as mere porn. But despite the name it’s not only suitable for rating pictures, it’s for text content or user-generated content as well, among other criteria. Plus the PICS label is recognized by Google, so it’s not about rushing ahead and self-censoring to please our overlords, it’s a measure to maximize the target audience and avoid mislead traffic. I believe a few of your clients may appreciate that. For example although this post uses quite a few trigger words, PICS provides a way to tell search engines and cybersitting software about the true nature of this article. I love that ability!

4 Responses to ‘Oh, won’t somebody please think of the children!’

  1. Pablo

    Hi, I have been using it since i started […]. At first, i was reticent to using it, but since it can avoid me legal problems, i finally went to the icra.org site and generate the label. By the way, the site gets a lot of traffic from google, so i think its not very dangerous in seo terms.

    Sorry about my little english, I am from Argentina.

  2. Jens Meiert

    Nice to remind of these labels again, they’re not quite popular … I may add that you can even use one label file for several sites, and that there also is an ICRA label tester/validator available.

  3. Shadi Abou-Zahra

    Hi Martin — not sure if you are also aware of the W3C Protocol for Web Description Resources (POWDER), which is another method of describing the content of Web pages. It is currently work in progress but when it is finalized, it promises to provide a useful way of doing machine-readable labels. This includes PICS — but also accessibility — or any other sort of labels…

  4. Martin Kliehm

    Hi Shadi, thanks for mentioning POWDER. It’s capabilities look promising, but I would suggest to provide a POWDR Generatr™ when is becomes a standard to encourage faster adoption. Powder generator! That sounds just too silly! ;)