educational

Pornzilla Meets Firefox

Sam Williams
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The phone picks up and a monotone voice answers. It's 8 a.m. East Coast time, which means it's 5 a.m. on the West Coast. Just about time for UC San Diego computer science graduate student Jesse Ruderman to wrap up a long night's hacking session.

"I keep weird hours," admits Ruderman, 23, with what passes for a laugh over the 3,000-mile telephone connection.

Like almost any red-blooded American male, Ruderman devotes at least a few of those hours each week to recreational pornography viewing. The pastime gives him an upclose and personal familiarity with tricks like pop-up ads, redirects, bogus websites, spyware and adware.

Fortunately, Ruderman has Firefox, the latest incarnation of the Mozilla Foundation's opensource browser to banish such tricks from his Linux-powered desktop computer.

Launched in 2002 and recently celebrating its 1.0 release, Firefox has been gaining adherents at a steady clip. According to Mozilla, the beta version scored 6.5 million downloads.

WebSideStory, a San Diego based Internet analytics company, pegs the latest combined Mozilla-Firefox marketshare at 5.2 percent, a 1.7 percent rise since the beginning of the summer. Sites that cater directly to Internet-savvy browsers are reporting an even steeper rise.

W3schools.com, a web tutorial services company, reports that 17.2 percent of all visitors last month used Firefox or an older version of Mozilla as a browser versus 7.2 percent in the year before.

Many of those new users are coming over from Internet Explorer, Microsoft's market-dominating browser, but also an aging piece of software dogged by security problems and creaky performance.

In rebuilding Mozilla from the ground up, developers focused on security first and convenience second. The end result: automatic pop-up blocking, no default downloads (a route exploited by adware programs) and a built in Google browser and tab-browsing to speed movement from site to site.

Tab Browsing
"Tab browsing's great for porn," says Ruderman. "You can start loading a link in a background tab and then switch to the tab when it's done loading."

Rather than stop there, Ruderman, a Mozilla project contributor since his days as an undergraduate at Harvey Mudd College, has used his software programming experience to launch a porn-friendly adjunct to the Mozilla/Firefox project.

Dubbed "Pornzilla," it offers about a dozen tools and extensions an individual browser can add to his own version of Firefox.

Although Ruderman has volunteered time as a Firefox developer, Pornzilla, as a project, is unaffiliated with or underwritten by Mozilla.

"It started out as a prank but it ended up being a useful site as well as a prank," says Ruderman, referring to the Pornzilla page on his personal website, Squarefree.com.

Expanding The Toolbox
Ruderman says the site averages between 500 to 700 hits a day, with most of the traffic coming in from blogs and web forums discussing the topic. With project partner Niels Aufbau moving on to other things, Ruderman has recently been working alone, combining his own insights with user suggestions to expand the Pornzilla toolbox.

Current toolbox contents include "thumbs" — an extension that shows the first thumbnail photograph from any linked gallery — and "zoom in" — a bookmarklet that blows up a thumbnail gallery once it's been loaded.

In the former case, users download a tool in .xpi format to be installed automatically into their browser extension file. In the latter case, they simply drag and drop a "zoom in" icon to their own local bookmark toolbox, at which point it pops up on the bookmark toolbar for quick reference.

"I wrote all of the bookmarks and some of the extensions," says Ruderman.

More important, however, are the bug fixes submitted to Mozilla's "Bugzilla" bug-tracking database. Ruderman has targeted bugs that pop up most noticeably whenever visiting porn sites. One bug, originally reported by Aufbau, was a Java-triggered rewrite of the referrer URL that caused some thumbnail galleries to reject the Pornzilla "linked-images" bookmarklet.

The reason, says Ruderman, is that most galleries are programmed to reject strange referrer URLs as a safeguard against bandwidth thieves. After consultation with the Mozilla development team, Ruderman found a way to make it so the browser sent the gallery site's own URL with each image request.

"We're also trying to fix things that are still annoying, like links that go through redirect," says Ruderman. "Because a lot of TGPs have traffic deals, half the time you'll wind up on a totally different site."

Such fixes might not endear Pornzilla with adult content administrators or their allies in the search engine optimization business, but they definitely take the frustration out of porn sampling.

Frank Scheelen, administrator of the porn-oriented search engine Ask Jolene, is impressed by the effort. "It's certainly an interesting project," Scheelen says. "I think it would be interesting for us to point people towards it on our pages."

Ruderman welcomes whatever attention and traffic porn webmasters are willing to throw his way. He has started a reciprocal link campaign, and sites that wish to take part in it can visit this page.

In the meantime, keeping the site in the 500-to-700 hits-per day range has its advantages. "Nobody's been angry at me," Ruderman admits. About the only negative feedback has come from family members and acquaintances put off by his unabashed endorsement of Internet pornography.

"My mom is against it," Ruderman says. "She thinks I shouldn't talk about porn at all on my site. My response to my mom is: 'I'll think about it.'"

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