The web is founded on both a philosophy and a technology the requires travels on the web to be open as in… viewable. Any device we use to see web content is able to construct that view because anyone, any device, any machine can see the underlying information.

It’s the beauty of the browser menu item View Source. I love looking into HTML, it’s close to how the folks in the Matrix can only see what is real by seeing the patterns in the code. Another post in the wings is a collection of the ascii art messages you find in the HTML that makes up web pages.

And so, I often learn whether a site is using WordPress or some other platform, if it is WordPress, I can figure out what theme they are using. I can see if they are using modern HTML5 or old crufty tables. I can see what qQuery modules they use (alas, you will find the source of some sites so convoluted in dynamic Javascript, its more challenging).

Likewise, its not too hard to get at the source of web images or web video. Yet today, it became obvious that for one type of web media, many ships in the system deploy some sort of cloaking device. A peak inside their web design studios:

For most places on the web, you can access source images via a simple right/control click, and Save Image As... menu selection. A few places will deploy small cloaking tricks to block the image (the URLs are usually easily found in the HTML source), and we can easily set our browsers to Screen Capture to get any image (putting aside the ownership issue, that is a question of whether we should vs whether we can). FWIW, this is the ultimate guide for screen shots.

Pictures, images… check.

Getting web video used to be a bit of a minefield. Sometimes they were tucked away on media servers (and still can be), and you had to deal with all kinds of formats and codecs. Then there was the dark years when so much content was cloaked in Flash players. Gotta thank Steve for busting that up, eh?

Poison Apple Woot T-shirt (I have one, wish it still fit)

Poison Apple Woot T-shirt (I have one, wish it still fit)

But the colossal power of YouTube presents a rather interesting conundrum. I like doing this in a workshop. I talk about all the video content on YouTube, yet ask people where is the download button? Hands go up, people talk about extensions, and add-ons… but there is no download button you will find that Google puts on a YouTube page.

So it’s no shortage of potential tools for getting source video from YouTube (as well as other sites like vimeo).

youtube downloaders

Everyone has a favorite web tool (most are rather sick with ads or buttons that want you to click that you do not want to click). My current favorite is Just try it. You will See The Light.

But the irony is that for whatever reasons we can speculate, Google is turning a blind eye to downloading. They could certainly prevent it, but they don’t. And I hope they won’t. How would I ever teach remix? How would I ever make fun of MOOCs?

You cannot get all source videos from the web (many TV show web sites are pretty good at cloaking theirs), but you can sure get a lot. Again, I think it is the demise of Flash and rise of HTML video that keeps the cloaking to a minimum.

But there is a type of media on the web that is so cloaked, it’s guess work, code sniffing, and blind guessing to try and get at source.

Yes, I talking about audio, maybe the most cloaked kind of media on the web.


When you start poking in the source of web pages with audio embedded in them, you find all kinds of machinations to keep you from the audio file. Still a lot of flash players. HTML5 players that use convoluted Javascript that only send file IDs to some nebulous media server.

This all started, as often with a tweet

Scott and I have had some amazing discussions about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and the CBC News story A fresh look at Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance got my interest.

And in it is a link to an hour long CBC radio story. In the middle of the day, I am not prepared to listen- what I would really like is to download and listen later, maybe on my iPod.

Yet, not seeing a download button, I view source.

Nothing that gets me to a file.

I run into this often trying to find live streams of radio stations to add to ds106 Radio. You can find all kinds of listing of radio stations with live streams, yet some 70% seem to be wrapped in web audio players or other forms that do not get you at the simple URL to play it. I end up downloading .pls and .m3u files, opening them in a text editor, and testing the hidden URLs. Some work, some do not.

So we play these games with media. The people who produce audio purposefully cloak the source files. I can guess its about controlling distribution and preventing all that evil privacy. But as many wiser than may have clearly said, when content goes digital, the costs of replication got to nil, so the whole value proposition of controlling distribution becomes rather pointless. Yet still policed.

And so we play cat and mouse games.

We try to find the hidden URLs on HTML source. We use screen recorders to make video files (I had to do this for many of the then flash player versions of 50 Web Ways to Tell a Story Tools to make my video). I’ve snagged audio by as lo tech as sticking a recording device in front of my speakers to routing output into my system audio and recording with Audacity.

Sometimes we just have to dress up to get around the cloaking devices…

If this kind of stuff has value, please support me by tossing a one time PayPal kibble or monthly on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!
Profile Picture for CogDog The Blog
An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *