Hmm, it seems like I've become an 'image blogger' without ever intending to.
I regularly study my site statistics. My blogging software provides one set of stats, and my web host provides a different set of stats. I also use Google Analytics, which provides yet another different set of stats. Between these three sources, I get a pretty good picture of how my site is running. One of the things I look at regularly is who is the web site that refers most traffic to me. Not surprisingly, probably 80-90% of the visitors to my site are referred by Google. What surprised me though, was what part of Google was doing all these referrals.
It turns out that most of the traffic on my site was sent there by Google Image Search. I find this a bit ironic, because I have very few blog posts that actually contain pictures. I rarely post pictures, because most of the time, I'm just too lazy to go through all the trouble of making the images, watermarking them, optimizing them so they aren't too big of files, uploading them etc. Occasionally, I'll write a blog with some photos from a movie trailer. I've done this for Spiderman 3 and I've done this for The Transformers. It is these two measly little blogs that generate most of the traffic to my site. The problem is that most of this traffic that these images are generating are just the images. People are only downloading the images, and not actually reading my site.
I did some investigating, through my various site stats, and found out where these images are being sent to. Thankfully, whenever an image file is requested from your web site, the page requesting the image is sent as the referer. This means that I can see exactly what web sites are loading my images. I discovered that most of these images are being deep linked to other people's sites. Deep linking is a technique where you have a web site, but rather than putting a link to an image on your own web site, you put a link to an image on a completely different web site. This is all done in HTML, so it's completely transparent to the person reading your web site. They never know that they are viewing images coming from a different site. That means that whenever somebody loads this other person's web site, I am essentially providing them free bandwidth in order for them to use my images on their site!
On Myspace.com, for instance, there are over 50 different people who are deep linking to my images! These Myspace links don't concern me too much. So a bunch of stupid kids aren't smart enough to actually download my image. They just link directly to it. The bandwidth used is not enough to really matter for most of these. Plus, since they are usually linked as full size images, my watermark is still present, so hopefully my site gets a little free advertising on these kids' web pages.
There is someone on a Spanish website forum who is deep linking to my image as his forum 'avatar'. In other words, whenever he posts an article on the forum, it includes his avatar image. That means EVERY article he writes, and everyone who reads it forces my web site to server out that image for free. This is beginning to concern me. I've visted the forum and viewed some of his messages. While I certainly not fluent in Spanish, I can read it enough to understand that he is one of the Administrators of the forum. That means that he is likely VERY active on this forum. That means my image is going to show up a lot. The problem is that the avatar image is shown very small. This means he is using my image for free, but the watermark on the bottom is shrunk down so small that it's unreadable to everyone who sees my image. I am seriously considering pulling a 'goat se.cx' trick on him.
The 'goat se.cx' trick is a rather crude name for an Internet 'revenge' technique for getting back at image linkers like this guy. It's named after a hardcore animal pornography site. The story goes that the owner of a web site found out that someone on a different web site was deep linking to his images without his permission. Since the other web site was linking directly to his images, essentially the other web site was allowing the owner of the images to control a section of his web site! All the image owner had to do was substitute the original image for images, with the same filename of something else - like say some hardcore pornography images? As soon as the image owner does this, the other web site, instead of showing some innocent images, starts showing some hardcore porn - all without his changing anything! By shocking the other web site by pulling this trick, he convinced the other web site to stop using his image. I've even heard stories of people who do this and the person stealing the images gets upset and threatens the image owner to put back the original images or he will sue them! Heh, now that is funny. Of course, if I do decide to pull this trick, I won't replace the images with hardcore porn. I'm not that malicious (yet). I'll likely just replace them with an image of the same size saying "STOP STEALING MY IMAGES" or something like that.
Unfortunately, this trick is an 'all or nothing' hack. That means if I pull it, it'll affect everyone linking to that image, even the people that I don't really care about. Plus, I'd have to go back and edit those blogs to link to different files containing the original images, so that my site still works, but everyone else doesn't. What a pain. I'm not sure if want to bother with this quite yet.
It's a good thing I'm on Dreamhost, or this problem would have cost me money already. Just in the month of July, I pumped over 9 gigabytes worth of traffic - most of it likely those images. Had I been on a 'lesser' web host, that could have cost me a lot.