News publishers meeting today have unveiled a new proposal that would give them a greater amount of control over the way that search engines index their websites. Presently, webmasters are limited to creating a robots.txt file, which tells search engine robots where they can go and what parts of the site to ignore. However, this limited amount of control does not satisfy many publishers.
Publishers wish to have control over additional things, such as how long pages are to be listed, or what links to ignore within pages. The news industry’s solution to this problem comes in the form of a new system proposal called “Automated Content Access Protocol“. The new commands unveiled today in New York at an industry conference.
The ACAP was developed at the initiative of the World Association of Newspapers, International Publishers Association, and the European Publisher’s Council, who have worked along with search engines to protect the intellectual content of anyone wishing to make content available on the web. The ACAP unveiled today is the result of a year-long pilot project.
From this day forth, publishers will be encouraged to implement ACAP version 1. In doing so, publishers will be able to express their own individual access and use policies in a language that is understandable by search engine robots and other automated tools.
The first major publication to implement the ACAP was the Times Online, who set it up on Wednesday of this week. Publishers behind the ACAP initiative believe that it could help prevent the disputes that have pitted publishers against search engines. They are hoping for universal implementation of the new protocols by the end of 2008.
There is one thing that could, however, throw a monkey wrench into their plans. Because the system works on a voluntary basis, the ACAP won’t be recognized until search engines agree to update their robots. Google, one of the world’s most powerful search engines, says that while they welcome any initiative that would help them to work more closely with publishers, they will not be making any decisions on adopting ACAP until they have thoroughly evaluated it. Most importantly, they need to make sure that it works across all types of websites, not just those that produce news content. Those behind ACAP insist that it has been designed with this in mind, and see no reason why the search engines should refuse to adopt it.