why PICS can not work

Monday, June 21, 1999, at 07:55AM

By Eric Richardson

I was trying to explain why PICS is horribly broken to someone, and I thought I had written a long rant on the subject here... All I could find was one little paragraph and it didn't make a whole lot of sense. Click to read why PICS is doomed.

PICS greatest strength is also its biggest weakness. RSAC (the people behind PICS) promote it as a voluntary standard. Site designers are allowed to rate their site how they see it. This prevents sites from being unfairly blocked because of a rater's prejudice. Unfortunately, a voluntary system means that a ton of sites won't get rated.

Unrated sites are where the problem lies. If you're only blocking sites that are rated outside your preferences, you run the risk of accessing an unrated site that would fail every setting you've got. The site could be absolutely horrible, but if it's unrated, you would see it.

Some browsers (IE in particular) try to eliminate this problem by allowing you to block all unrated sites. Any site lacking a PICS rating is instantly off-limits.

And that's the problem. There's a ton of the web that's not rated. Plenty of otherwise perfectly good sites don't have a PICS rating, so if you're only allowing rated sites, you won't be able to get to them. Until at least 90% of the web is rated, it's impractical to browse only rated sites. But if you're allowing unrated sites, you can get to any unrated site (unrated sites are just that... completely unrated).

It also presents a classic chicken vs. egg problem. You can't browse only rated sites until most sites rate, but if you're rowsing unrated, what incentive is there for them to rate?

And that, in a nutshell, is why PICS simply can not work.