I want to make it so artists can say whether they want to allow their texture packs to be remixed and specifically whether Texturejam is allowed to allow visitors to download remixed packs. To do this I need to be able to identify the pack in question. Even if we assume honest dealing from all the people involved, this is a tricky problem.
The first problem is identification: texture packs do not have unique identifiers. One of the most definitive lists of packs is probably the listings post on Minecraft forums. Packs have names and a URL labelled ‘Download Texture Pack’ which is actually a post elsewhere on the forum. Packs are generally identified by the forum thread where they were introduced—new releases are announced by editing the top post of the thread. Because the forum includes the post title in the URL, the URL generally changes with every release.
This leaves names, and problem there is that names can mutate during the lifetime of the pack as well—there is a convention of sometimes naming the pack variously ‘Warpspasm’s Pony Pack’, ‘ponypack by W@rpsp@sm’ or just ‘PonyPack’, which is OK so long as no-one else thinks to name their pack Pony Pack. We can up to a point have the computer guess whether two names name the same thing, but it is likely to be hit-or-miss.
Identification matters because if Texturejam can’t tell whether pack X and pack Y are the same pack, it can’t know whether permissions given to X apply to Y.
I don’t want Tetxurejam to pass off one person’s work as someone else’s, which is why the source packs have their own pages on Texturejam with links to the forum posts that identify the original creator. For example, page for Tungsten’s Texpack + Patches links to the page for Tungsten’s Texpack, which links to Tungsten’s forum post as best I can. Where the pack has a proper home page we link to that too.
The trick here is that few packs have dedicated home pages, and forum-post URLs change. My plan for trying to address this is to add artists’ pages to Texturejam. This will allow for several URLs to be used to identify the artist, and for links to their Twitter or Minecraft Forums identity. The downside is that it is yet another page on the internet that needs updating.
Keeping the list of source packs on Texturejam up-to-date is important because it determines whether to offer a patched version of a pack based on which Minecraft version the pack is designed for. If it has out-of-date info it will offer a patched version when it should not.
I can’t expect pack artists to keep their details up-to-date on Texturejam, even if they knew about Texturejam. Even if they wanted to, most artists barely have time to update a forum post, let alone edit information on the half-a-dozen other sites with lists of texture packs. And there are not enough people who know about Minecraft texture packs to make the critical mass needed to run a wiki.
This leaves the automation approach—writing programs to download lists of packs and parse them for information about versions and download links. There are a difficulties with this approach. The lists are designed for human readers, not machines. As discussed earlier, identification of packs is tricky, which means that we may know that Turtle Pack supports Beta 1.9 but not know that this is the same pack as Snaggletooth’s Turtles Pack. There is extra complication added by the practice of wrapping the download and home-page URLs via parasitic sites like Mediafire and Adfly—a human can click through and sigh and tut and moan at the extra advertisements, but it is not so easy for a program trying to gather information.
Death of the Web Predicted
Twenty years ago the vision for the Web was of resources freely shared, properly identified, with stable URLs and clear attribution expressed in metadata easily parsed by machines so as to enabled new and unexpected ways of combining and reusing those resources. The publication of texture packs in Minecraft illustrates as well as anything how it is possible to take every aspect of best practice and run in the opposite direction as fast as possible.