Two years ago, I posted a Happy New Year greeting shortly past midnight on January 1. I attached a picture of fireworks I had taken just that night. Not even a particularly good one, but for some reason I still decided to include a link to a high resolution version of the picture.
Over the coming year, that high res version of the fireworks photo shot up to be search result number 3 on Google Images for the search terms “Happy New Year”.
Then, one year later, “the clueless” started to flock in. Or should I say “hot-link in”? People started including the photo in their new year’s greetings on MySpace and other sites. And they didn’t just go and copy it, but they hot-linked the full resolution version, using
<img> tag attributes to scale it down to about 300 pixels width (what a shame!). While guestbooks and forums were certainly the worst offenders, people also hot-linked it from official city web sites and in their emails to their office mates. I often got 100 or 200 downloads from the same company with an email referrer.
The first year, I tried to decrease bandwidth use (and the level of fun for the clueless 😉 ) by serving a 30 pixel black and white version of the image to the worst hot-linking offenders. It didn’t help, so this year I tried serving an image with a polite message to please not hot-link. It seems people just don’t care. In fact, there’s websites out there that consist of nothing more than an endless list of hot-linked images taking forever to load. I now removed the high-resolution version entirely, after my usage graph looked like this for two New Year’s straight.