User Customization: Too Much of a Good Thing?

By David F. Carr Print this article Print

MySpace allows visitors to post code and customize their personal pages.

One of the features members love about MySpace is that it gives people who open up an account a great deal of freedom to customize their pages with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), a Web format that allows users to change the fonts, colors and background images associated with any element of the page.

That feature was really "kind of a mistake," says Duc Chau, one of the social networking site's original developers. In other words, he neglected to write a routine that would strip Web coding tags from user postings—a standard feature on most Web sites that allow user contributions.

The Web site's managers belatedly debated whether to continue allowing users to post code "because it was making the page load slow, making some pages look ugly, and exposing security holes," recalls Jason Feffer, former MySpace vice president of operations. "Ultimately we said, users come first, and this is what they want. We decided to allow the users to do what they wanted to do, and we would deal with the headaches."

In addition to CSS, JavaScript, a type of programming code that runs in the user's browser, was originally allowed. But MySpace eventually decided to filter it out because it was exploited to hack the accounts of members who visited a particular profile page. MySpace, however, still experiences periodic security problems, such as the infected QuickTime video that turned up in December, automatically replicating itself from profile page to profile page. QuickTime's creator, Apple Computer, responded with a software patch for MySpace to distribute. Similar problems have cropped up in the past with other Web software, such as the Flash viewer.

This article was originally published on 2007-01-16
David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.
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