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Firefox passive-aggressives adjudicate Nerd Law

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For years, NoScript had been using some tricks to keep Adblock Plus from working on its update landing pages. Palant didn't pay it much mind for some time, until he recently recommended that EasyList explicitly block ads on the NoScript servers. Successive iterations of this blocking rendered the NoScript website useless to Adblock Plus users, to the point where they could not even download NoScript without some serious hunting. Having enough of this passive-aggressive posturing, Maone released a version of NoScript that would interfere with the internals of Adblock Plus to allow ads on the NoScript servers.

What followed was a public airing of grievances that brought in the Mozilla Foundation, who came down on Adblock Plus's side. (Yes, the Mozilla Foundation that's kept afloat by advertising revenue from Google, that Mozilla Foundation). It ended with Maone apologizing for interfering with Adblock Plus and issuing an update to NoScript that un-did his fiddling.

If you step back and look at this, it was not nearly a crisis of the magnitude the internet would have you believe. This slug-fest only affected people who use both Adblock Plus and NoScript. Each of these extensions has about 50 million downloads, and if you assume a really generous amount of overlap and adoption, this amounts to about 18 per cent of Firefox users. Woo, let's alert the BBC.

The real cause of this dispute is something I like to call Nerd Law. Nerd Law is some policy that can only be enforced by a piece of code, a public standard, or terms of service. For example, under no circumstances will a police officer throw you to the ground and introduce you to his friend the Tazer if you crawl a website and disrespect the robots.txt file.

The only way to adjudicate Nerd Law is to write about a transgression on your blog and hope that it gets to the front page of Digg. Nerd Law is the result of the pathological introversion software engineers carry around with them, being too afraid of confrontation after that one time in high school when you stood up to a jock and ended up getting your ass kicked.

If you actually talk to people, network, and make agreements, you'll find that most are reasonable. If Maone had talked with the EasyList maintainer, perhaps he could have convinced them that showing AdSense on the NoScript site wasn't a huge affront to users. After all, if those ads really pissed off a user, he could explicitly block them with Adblock Plus.

If the EasyList maintainer contacted Maone about what implications his explicit blocks on the NoScript site would have, maybe the two of them could have come to a mutually-agreeable solution.

But no. Sadly, software engineers will do what they were raised to do. And while it may be a really big hullabaloo to a very small subset of people who Twitter and blog their every thought as if anybody cared, to the rest of us, it just reaffirms our knowledge that it's easy to exploit your average introvert.

After all, what's he gonna do? Blog about it? ®

Ted Dziuba is a co-founder at Milo.com You can read his regular Reg column, Fail and You, every other Monday.

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