Monday 25 February 2008

YouTube and IP addresses

I have never been a great participant in the YouTube revolution. Let's face it... I've been pretty slow to pick up on a lot of new internet trends (Facebook, MySpace, etc.). I was always right in there with blogging though!

So, YouTube. Occasionally I like to watch really funny TV adverts again. Or see a bunch of cats miaowing Christmas songs. The rest of it I'm afraid I rate up there with reality TV. If I need to see stupid people doing stupid things I can pretty much look out of my window!

This morning I read a story on the web about a furore which arose yesterday when Pakistan blocked YouTube and it would seem manage to cause a global outage of the website. This operation, it would seem, took place by the remarkably simple notion of replace the IP address to YouTube requested by anyone in Pakistan with a different IP address, thereby taking them to a different site. So simple, yet so effective.

I think that a lot of people forget these days that behind all the 'easy' to remember website address/domain names there is actually the physical address of a website its IP (Internet Protocol) address. Anyone who remembers early web browsers such as Gopher or Mosaic probably remembers that quite often you had to type in the IP address to obtain your page (with obviously amusing results for the number illiterate!). IP addresses are what run the internet. We've all go one. Every website, every user. It is how computers talk to each other. It would be great to have your IP address (like your phone number) and keep it and know it. Unfortunately not possible. There simply aren't enough IP numbers out there. This means that there are two types of IP address - static and dynamic. Always on connections (websites, DSL, ADSL, Broadband) get a static address. Dial-up connections get a dynamic address which they use for a a session and then put back in the 'pool' when they are done for someone else to use. Neat, huh? I know, I'm a geek.

Pakistan aren't the first country to take against YouTube - Thailand, Morocco and Turkey to name just three others.

Censorship is an ugly word. It does happen on the internet though, in some Countries more than others. The internet is difficult to patrol... by nature. It is pretty much without pysical borders, and the borders that do exist are in different places to the physical borders which constrain the users of the internet. It is pretty hard to legislate what a website in (for example) America does if you are in (for example) France - although it has been tried!