Microsoft to fund ACAP development?

The search by newspaper publishers for DRM-for-papers continues. ACAP (Automated Content Access Protocol) is currently their Great White Hope. This report from TechCrunch suggests that Microsoft might be getting in on the act.

Our sources say Microsoft has pledged to help fund research and engineering into ACAP to the tune of about will put £100,000. This is the more granular version of the robots.txt protocol which has been proposed by publishers to enable them to have a more sophisticated response to search engine crawlers. However, we understand that Microsoft won’t be involved in developing the protocol, just the financial funding.

For years, Google has characterised the debate about search engines as “you are either in our index or not in it, there is no half-way house.” But the Automated Content Access Protocol ”ACAP” proposes a far more layered response, allowing full access or just access to some content of a site. Unsurprisingly, it’s been developed by a consortium of the World Association of Newspapers, European Publishers Council and International Publishers Association. Proposed in 2006, it has been criticised as being biased towards publishers rather than search engines, specifically Google, and few non-ACAP members have adopted the protocol. Some call it the “DRM of newspaper web sites”. That said some 1,600 traditional publishers have signed up to using ACAP.

But if Bing starts to play ball with ACAP, this could change the game. Suddenly newspapers will have a stick, and a heavyweight enforcer in the shape of Bing, with which to beat Google. Google would have a choice – either recognise the ACAP protocol in order to get some level of access to newspaper sites, or just ignore it…