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Winer slams new Google toolbar feature
February 24, 2005 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Dave Winer slams the new Google Toolbar Autolink feature as "poorly thought out" adware that unilaterally raises "serious integrity issues" for the Web. Southern Rants adds this pointed critique: "The most important point Winer makes is that it's not about technology. It's about making a HUGE change on the Web, our new social nexus, without discussion. See, he and I are old enough to remember when no one would do such a thing without taking it to ISOC or some such org. It needs discussion. It needs consideration. That's what Google doesn't understand." [via Ed Cone]
posted by mediareport (96 comments total)

 
Well. It is sleazy.

But I mean, come on, it's up to the individual user how they want to present the web to themselves. This has been tried before and has never caught on (remember the NBCi QuickClick ads they were running right as the dot-com bubble burst). I’m sure the toolbar will have the option to turn it either on or off.

It’s up to the user to decide how they want to experience the web, not Dave Whiner.
posted by delmoi at 8:01 AM on February 24, 2005


Winer hates Google. If Google solved world hunger he would still complain. 'Nuff said.
posted by tommasz at 8:07 AM on February 24, 2005


that could spell the end of the Web as a publishing environment with integrity

Oh please. Can't lose what you never had.
posted by drinkcoffee at 8:10 AM on February 24, 2005


'Nuff said.

*LOL*

Whatever. How about Southern Rant's point, then? Does he "hate Google" so much you don't have to deal with him, either?

I disclaimer many sites so that site owners aren't sued or hassled for links that rot or links that once led to a good place and now go to a trashy place because some idiot bought a once-valued domain (happens all the time). In fact, some of my clients have chosen not to put links on their site to other sites for this very reason. It's a choice they made that Google now takes away due to its huge market share. The Web isn't a place where choice should be taken away unilaterally, no matter how big you are. That's why it's the Web.
posted by mediareport at 8:12 AM on February 24, 2005


Old enough? Someone's full of themselves, the web isn't that old. If I still think that the best day on the web was when Mosaic started rendering pages before loading all of the images does that make me old? (FYI, I just turned 30, so be nice.) Anyway, there have been literally hundreds of web add-ins that made changes as significant as this. (Various shared browsing, editing, annotating, MS's original smart tags.) I don't think any of those people considered taking it to the ISOC.

So, when I read Mr Rants' Rant I thought, wow, there's no opt-out? Hmm, I guess I'll stop using the google bar. Then I realized that he meant that there's no opt-out for the site owner.

Teeheehee. It's one of those designers who's mad about client-side tools again. They're so cute. Look out google, he's mad! I'm guessing that if I press the button & ruin his design he gets a little chill like someone walking over his grave. Mediareport, his point is totally lame. I'm reading the page & I choose to click the button & I'm not hurting anybody. There, I dealt with him.
posted by Wood at 8:14 AM on February 24, 2005


I don't ignore him, but I don't take him all that seriously anymore. Besides, as far as I know, the Google toolbar is optional software, and I choose not to install it.
posted by tommasz at 8:19 AM on February 24, 2005


that could spell the end of the Web as a publishing environment with integrity

Oh please. Can't lose what you never had.


That's what I thought when I read the quote above, but in context, it's a bit more clear: In the current web environment, as long as you (the creator of a web page) have done your end well (checked in multiple browsers, avoided flash, etc.), your page has "integrity", in the sense that you know exactly what text is going to be supplied to the viewer, and the viewer will see your page in the way you want it to be viewed.

Of course, when you get down to details, this breaks down if people use AdBlock, or turn off images, or whathaveyou, but it does seem to be true of the text of a page. With Google Toolbar Autolink, that integrity is gone, and what the viewer will think is the text of your page isn't necessarily what the text of your page is.

Not necessarily saying I agree, but I think your interpretation of "the integrity of the web" is unrelated to the actual use of "the integrity of the web".
posted by Bugbread at 8:43 AM on February 24, 2005


Zeldman (and others) have likened it to MS Smart Tags.
posted by whatnot at 8:45 AM on February 24, 2005


Dave Winer slams everything he doesn't invent, it's just the "way of the web," and those of us who have been around long enough, and had the unfortunate audacity to disagree with him, know how rational his thoughts can be.

Google Toolbar is a FREE added-value bit of software that you must download and install. That Google has added something to it that people don't like seems to be easily solved by simply not downloading it.

Did I miss the point where Google forced everyone in the world to use their toolbar?

Integrity in the web has always been both sides, as with all things. If you write a check, and fill out all the boxes, you still depend on the other person not to mangle the numbers you wrote, changing it from $100 to $1000. There is no integrity in "open communications".
posted by petrilli at 8:48 AM on February 24, 2005


Note that before any changes get made, users have to a) install the google toolbar and b) turn on the the autolink feature. The rest of us, oddly, see the exact same web as we did yesterday.

This same exact argument could be made about popup blockers (which interestingly enough, is another feature of the google toolbar), or filtering proxies, or bookmarklets, or even Mozilla's pref to turn off the blink tag. Should site owners have the right to "opt-out" of having blink disabled in the user's browser? Even if the user has specifically installed a browser and set a pref to diable it?

That's why I don't get this whole foofara. It's not changing the web; it's empowering individual users to change their experience of the web.
posted by boaz at 8:54 AM on February 24, 2005


Google now takes away due to its huge market share. The Web isn't a place where choice should be taken away unilaterally, no matter how big you are. That's why it's the Web.

Yeah, but thing is they never had that choice. I choose how I view information. If I want my information filtered through Google’s toolbar, so be it. Google is releasing a tool that might make the web more useful for some people, which is more important to some people then the desires of some power-mad designer.
posted by delmoi at 8:56 AM on February 24, 2005


Gee bugbread, I'm sure glad to have you around to let me know that I jeopordise a site's integrity by using Flash. What the hell are you talking about?

As for Le Whiner, he's just sore that nobody pays him enough attention. I don't like the googlebar idea and I hope that there is away to get around it like PreventSmartTagParsing or whatever it's called with MS. Then you just pop it in your head template and you're away.
posted by jackiemcghee at 8:57 AM on February 24, 2005


Not having a windows box I haven't had a chance to test this feature and I'm a bit confused about one aspect. Does just installing the toolbar make AutoLink active on every site, or do I need to click the AutoLink button on each page?
posted by rschroed at 8:57 AM on February 24, 2005


This would be concerning -- if only in the what if naive users get there hands on it sense -- but it isn't. Because (correct me if I'm wrong) every time you want links to appear, you have to push a button.

If you don't want people viewing your content however they want, don't put it on a public server.
posted by Tlogmer at 8:57 AM on February 24, 2005


As for Le Whiner, he's just sore that nobody pays him enough attention.

Agreed, but does that change the fact that in _this_ case he _might_ have a good point?
posted by rschroed at 9:00 AM on February 24, 2005


I'm often very dubious about knee-jerk dismissals or criticisms of new technologies. Sure, some of the points made are valid, but I think a more balanced intepretation is required:

...a new link appears on the page; the link looks exactly like the other links on the page... it's impossible to know which links were added by the author and which were added by Google.

Actually, this feature makes a lot of sense to me: why create a new type of link when you can use the existing HTTP/HTML framework for hyperlinks and URIs. This means existing browsers can support auto-links without having to mess with the HTML/CSS standards. In this regard, simply bolting on a new standard like Microsoft did means other browsers will have to play catch-up to support it. It also means the new technology works with the existing technology, rather than against it.

In 2005, adding links to a page is not different from adding to or changing the words on the page. It's as if a machine editor had license to change our meaning or intent, without our permission...

I not sure if publishers can really claim to have ownership over the way that a browser renders their content. For example, one could similarly claim that an ad-blocking extension could alter the "meaning or intent" even though what it really does is supply additional functionality. Similarly, why should a publisher decide what links we can add to their page through our browser?

On the other hand, I word be horrified if, for example, auto-linking enabled competitors to add links to my own site. Then again, if it is up to the user what auto-links are enabled then I don't really see why I should be concerned: if right-wing users want to turn on auto-links to the Fox News site, then let them. Similarly, if left-wing users want to turn on auto-linking to Daily Kos so that counter links appear on Fox News, more power to us.

I would object if turning on auto-linking enabled all "types" of auto-links including those with possible bias. In this case, some effort should be made to clearly seperate and categorise types of auto-links and only neutral ones, such as address look-ups etc., should be enabled by default.

Given that high-integrity publications may want to opt-out of this service instead of publishing disclaimers, Google must at least implement an opt-out via robots.txt, and via a web application.

Again, it's none of the publisher's business what I decide I want to see on my browser. The robots.txt exist to prevent a web servers from being spammed or to protect the privacy (or rather, obscurity) of documents on public servers. This is seperate to the concern of controlling the representation of documents on the Internet.

Even when they link to their map site it's promoting a Google service, which may not, at this time, contain ads, but certainly will at some point in the future.

This is a concern, but only for users. If user's want to expose themselves to more ads that is up to them. That said, I think some profit sharing scheme for money made through auto-linking to ads. Alternatively, this is a good reason to develop a FOSS version of auto-linking. This may be tricky given the new patent.
posted by axon at 9:00 AM on February 24, 2005


I usually take a completely user-centric view of how the web should work (and tend to kneejerk disagree with whatever Dave Winer is bleating at any given time) but this is a bit dodgy - I know that if I ran, say, an independent online bookshop, I wouldn't want the Google Toolbar turning all the ISBN numbers on my site into links to Amazon.

For those who'd rather not have their content Autolinked, there's already a method for disabling links generated by the Toolbar. It's a shame it's not as easy as the MS Smart Tags-disabling meta tag.
posted by jack_mo at 9:13 AM on February 24, 2005


Does just installing the toolbar make AutoLink active on every site, or do I need to click the AutoLink button on each page?

also haven't used it, but according to sjoerd visscher (who generally knows what he's talking about):

It's not a toggle button, you have to press the button every time you visit a new page for the links to show up.

all the talk of users not knowing the difference between links and autolinks seems to completely ignore this point.
posted by scottreynen at 9:15 AM on February 24, 2005


I know that if I ran, say, an independent online bookshop, I wouldn't want the Google Toolbar turning all the ISBN numbers on my site into links to Amazon.

True, but as a user I would like to be able to automatically compare your prices to prices elsewhere on the web. If auto-links only turned on links to Amazon only that would be advertising, but if it opened links to, for example, froogle.com where I could compare prices from a source I trust I think it would be more reasonable.
posted by axon at 9:17 AM on February 24, 2005


Thing is, Google is heading towards being the de facto government of the Internet, just as Microsoft is the de facto government of PCs.

Whether or not an individual can or can't opt out of these governments (eg by installing Linux, using Altavista instead, etc., etc.) is somewhat beside the point. The issue is that publishers have to cope with whatever installed base there is, and the de facto governments have the ability to change the installed base to suit their whims.

IE, for many years, sucked even in comparison with Netscape. But it was given away free, so it killed Netscape's business model.

People use Outlook Express instead of Eudora not because it's awesome, but because it's there.

Samba/NetBEUI are terrible, terrible protocols, but still to this day they're used because they're part of the installed base.

Google is now starting to be in a position where they can change the installed set of features, by inserting themselves into the page rendering process via the Toolbar. The problem that people are having is that they have been quick and aggressive at playing with this newfound power of theirs, and at leveraging it to the benefit of Google.

People expect that sort of behavior from software companies, but it makes the same people uneasy to see it in governments (or de facto governments), because 'changing the playing field' is way broader in scope than simply playing the game hard.

If I were Google, I'd take the time to publically explain the general plan for good government. It's a step Microsoft's never done, to their detriment (because they're genetically inimical to good government). It would signal to their competitors, which might be considered by some to reduce Google's effectiveness, but seriously, who's going to challenge Google now? Ask Jeeves? Microsoft?
posted by felix at 9:20 AM on February 24, 2005


I still don't understand what is great about the Google toolbar. Maybe that is because it isn't made for my os of choice.

In any case, this is opt-out -- don't use the toolbar and your internets won't be forever changed.
posted by n9 at 9:22 AM on February 24, 2005


I have a little bit of concern about other companies taking the content of my web site and wrapping it up so that it generates revenue for them. Similar to the search services that would put the resulting pages in a frame so that they could keep serving ads as you browsed another site.

I have a little bit of concern about other companies diverting people away from the commercial relationships I have established for my own content. If I try to route readers to order books through Powells.com (either because I think they deserve support or because I have an affiliate deal) I'm not keen on a third party automatically providing links that will direct them elsewhere. If I were a small independent bookseller with online ordering capabilities I would be really bothered that my entire catalog will automatically be turned into ads for Amazon.


I also don't like that Google is providing a service that will simultaneously strip out my ads and insert their own. To me that is kind of like if Comcast offered a service where they would remove all of the adds from NBC television shows and replace them with ads for other Comcast services.

These things, don't bother me a lot, though. The software is optional and the feature is optional. Of course, most users of the Google toolbar have probably never even looked at the setup options (as long as the search box is there and they aren't seeing pop ups they're happy), but that is always true.

My really big concern is that the links added by Google are not easily distinguished from the links added by me. I think the tool should make a huge visual distinction between original content and added content.

These are not links added to the bottom of the page, but to the flow of text, using the styles defined by me. When a link makes no sense (because I talked about 666 Mockingbird Lane and it links automatically to a useless map will they remember to blame Google or will they think I've done something stupid? When I create a list of books and use the ISDN number to link to a library catalog page, or to a more information page, is Google going to convert all those links to Amazon and screw up the navigation of my site? And when it does so, is the user going to remember to blame Google, or think my site is broken?

So that is my big concern, it removes from the end user the ability to easily determine if I'm being an idiot (or a genius) or if Google is.
posted by obfusciatrist at 9:26 AM on February 24, 2005


I generally have a fairly high antipathy towards anything winer-related, but in this case, I frankly think that he's right on. I thought it was even surprisingly free of ego and pompous-ness.

n9: In any case, this is opt-out
Well, it's opt-out as a user. One of the problems addressed by Winer's article is that it's not opt-out for the web designer.
posted by jnthnjng at 9:34 AM on February 24, 2005


It seems to me that the crux of Winer and Zeldman's, among others, arguement is that Google is modifying an authors content without permission.

This simply isn't true. It is the user that is modifying the content. This is a two stage process, first the toolbar has to be installed and then the button has to be clicked. It's not a combination that is likely to be used by accident and it is not persistent.

I fail to see how this is any different than a pop-up blocker, a user stylesheet (ironically, the two user stylesheets I use are for Gmail and MeFi) or a bookmarklet. My house, my rules. I will view a web page any way that I see fit and it is foolish to blame a toolmaker for providing me with more options. Once the contents of a page are cached on my computer and rendered in my browser as far as I'm concerned they are no longer under the control of the author -- in essence, they are mine to manipulate any way I damn well please.

This is no different than scribbling in the margins of a book or highlighting passages in a sofware manual.
posted by cedar at 9:34 AM on February 24, 2005


Jackie - Bugbreads statement about Flash is supported by many Mefi's. They are wrong (of course) but I've heard quite a few rants about the efficacy of it: Kind of like arguing the efficacy of computers in the print field if you ask me.
posted by j.p. Hung at 9:36 AM on February 24, 2005


Two things: the google toolbar only adds links when you click a button and the links it adds have a different mouse pointer than normal links.

Also, I just see this as a value-added product. If I use google's toolbar I probably already use their services. So this just removes the middle-man from the process whereby I copy an address, go to google maps, and paste it in. Also, if you don't like google maps, you can configure it to link you to mapquest or yahoo maps.

Also, you know something's up with Dave Winer when he posts his first criticism of the google toolbar before he had installed or used the product. (Or any toolbars, ever.)
posted by HiddenInput at 9:39 AM on February 24, 2005


Gee bugbread, I'm sure glad to have you around to let me know that I jeopordise a site's integrity by using Flash. What the hell are you talking about?

Er, I'm talking about the exact opposite of what you're talking about, apparently, though you seem to want to disagree with me.

I'm saying that a site creator can have high expectations of his site having "integrity" (that is, being presented to the reader in the format (more or less) that the site creator wants) if he, for example, makes it straight text, no images. If you rely on images, you have a slightly lower rate of "integrity", as some people may have images turned off. If you use Flash, it might be slightly lower yet, as some people haven't installed Flash / have used a Flash blocker.

I never said anything about people jeapordizing site integrity by using Flash to view it, and the whole thing was an aside about what Dave Winer, not me (hint: I am not Dave Winer) meant when he talked about "integrity", in relation to drinkcoffee's comment about the net not having integrity, in (apparently) the usual sense of integrity (factual validity, morality, whathaveyou).

If you have a disagreement with that, go ahead and tell Winer about it, because, while it is my opinion about what I think Winer is saying, that isn't to say it's my opinion about what is true in general. The same way as when I say "I think that the Aryan Nation thinks whites are superior", I'm not saying that I think whites are superior, I'm saying that Aryan Nation thinks they're superior.
posted by Bugbread at 9:39 AM on February 24, 2005


No, of course not.

But that doesn't mean that as an author I have to like it when services are provided to easily subvert my intent.

Similar to the services that will take your DVDs and edit the naughty bits. Your DVD, your right. But it probably still pisses off the movie director.

Especially if the company that provide the editing service also inserts product placements (end user: I really like Coke, please make all the characters drink Coke).

There are things that Google could do to make things more palatable to both ends of the equation, I think. And if they piss me off too much, I'll just try to find ways to make their service not work properly (similar to pop-up blockers and saying "bob at someaddress dot com".
posted by obfusciatrist at 9:42 AM on February 24, 2005


Winer hates something that he didn't invent.

News at 11.
posted by bshort at 9:48 AM on February 24, 2005


ooo those nasty clients. i'm going to turn all my web pages into pdfs. that'll learn 'em.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:53 AM on February 24, 2005


As usual, this is much ado about nothing (and much ranting about nothing)...

Here's how it works. Google is one of dozens of different search engines people use to search the Internet. Currently, it's the most popular, but 10 years ago it wasn't even on the map. 10 years from now, who knows? So people who think Google is guaranteed its survival as a search engine don't look at the history of search engines much.

So a consumer has a choice about search engines. A consumer also has a choice to download a beta version of some software from that search engine. This is beta!! This is not the final version and you have to specifically download it from the Google site to use it. So a user has a choice about downloading this beta software.

So then the user installs it and see this "Autolink" button. The first time you click it, it tells you what it does. Right now, the content it links to is limited. Users can also choose to turn off this feature altogether if they would like to.

Each time you visit a web page, you have to click on the "Autolink" button to see the Google-suggested links. It is not automated. It means the *user* (that's me!) wants more information Google can provide. At that point, I don't care what the site owner thinks (I'm a site publisher, so I see it from both sides). As a user, I just want the additional information Google can readily provide me.

As a site owner, you have a choice, of course (as you always have). If you don't like it, opt of out the World Wide Web. Winer also didn't like those little comment services that came out a few years ago that let users put annotations and notes on anybody else's webpage (that you could only read if, again, you downloaded and used particular software).

The upshot though is that, like many things people complain about, this isn't likely to catch on in any huge way since 90-99% of the population doesn't use the Google toolbar. (I do wish they would make more options customizable, such as providing choices as where ISBN book links to.)
posted by docjohn at 9:55 AM on February 24, 2005


The stuff I had read hadn't made it clear that the links only show if you click a button while on that page (every time you visit, or just once?).

That alleviates my concerns a bit. Though I do think content providers have some valid concerns and only by expressing them will this beta product maybe find reasonable compromises.

Though if it is going to use my style sheet for how its links look, I will be sorely tempted to create a style in areas I know I won't put links that has a penis as a background image. Not so much out of objection, but because I can.
posted by obfusciatrist at 10:13 AM on February 24, 2005


Have any of you ever picked up a used book, started reading it, and then realized that there were seriously distracting comments / notes written in it?

Anyway, if there was a tool that turned all book links into Amazon (or whatever) links I would consider using it. I would consider my own feelings about independent or small retailers. Then I'd consider the feelings of the site owner, but not for very long. (The feelings of the designer wouldn't come up.) There is some issue there (much bigger than what we've actually got mind you), but it's similar to exploiting the services of a higher-end retailer & then buying online or at a discount retailer. It's a hazard of business & people who do it are not doing anything too bad.
posted by Wood at 10:28 AM on February 24, 2005


Did anyone get this upset about the Dialectizer back in the day? Because I'm not sure this feature violate's a site's integrity any more than that does.

This kerfuffle is just a subcase (and not a terribly interesting one, IMO) of the kerfuffle over Google's size and influence. If they were smaller, less influential or less trusted, this feature would be just as harmless as the Dialectizer is.

(Now that I think of it, someone probably did bitch about the Dialectizer back in the day. There's uptight people everywhere, after all...)
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:29 AM on February 24, 2005


jnthjng: Well, it's opt-out as a user. One of the problems addressed by Winer's article is that it's not opt-out for the web designer.

Um, that's not a problem, that's the way the web was designed to work. One of the basic starting points for the design of the WWW was that while the content designer can suggest display or implementation details, the final rendering of the web page is up to the client. This is a good thing because it can accomodate presentation modes for disabilities (high contrast, increased font size, text-to-speech and braile), different browser capabilities (from vt100 terminals to cellular phones), different output media (print or screen), as well more complicated semantic indexing.

The bottom line is that once a copy of your content is in my hands, you loose control over how I change, modify or annotate that individual copy. (Once I start redistributing that annotated copy, then I have a problem, but lets not get distracted by issues of redistribution.)

Smart = Talking about ways in which Google's ubiquity should lead to serious consideration of how and why they link to other sites.

Stupid = Asserting that content providers have a right to dictate the tools available for annotation of personal copies of content.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:35 AM on February 24, 2005


Hey guys, check out whitehouse.gov with wikialong. Or even the article in question. Hmmm.
posted by 31d1 at 10:37 AM on February 24, 2005


So, can someone explain why Dave Winer matters? This is seriously a tempest in a teacup. For autolink to work you must opt in, not once but twice (install the toolbar+enable the feature). Dave should seriously sit down, take a deep breath, and pour himself a big steaming mug of STFU.
posted by mullingitover at 10:38 AM on February 24, 2005


what a fool. it is my choice to install software containing whatever features I prefer on my own computer.....
posted by reflection at 10:39 AM on February 24, 2005


metafilter v. a-list bloggers, round 3.
posted by crunchland at 10:44 AM on February 24, 2005


I think it's less an issue from a personal web space (though not totally - see below), and more an issue for the commercial web at large, and having serious consequences for the use of web sites for commerce.

People have hit on it a few times, and I think Winer didn't expand enough upon the key issue or do it justice;

Google can make advertising relationships (for money) to create links on other people's sites (including competitors of the product/service to be advertised) without those co-opted sites profiting in kind.

Now, from a basic standpoint, I don't think anyone would appreciate your siding company putting up siding on your house that has advertising on it, where they are making money off that advertising, and you are not.

While I appreciate the functional usefulness of the autolinking, it is too easily co-opted for unfair business practices (I love the mouse-over dictionary function in Trillian, for example).

BUT - You pay for your site hosting space and web traffic bandwidth, as well as for the cost of design and development of the site. For someone to be able to make money through implementing free advertising for someone else's (or their own) product through a backdoor on your site is, commercially, unfair. Your space, your money, your terms of use.

Google no doubt could track how many of their autolinks clicked through to Amazon and created a sale, thus netting them a commission check, of which you would see nothing.

And in the worse-case scenario, Barnes and Noble ends up paying to allow advertising for Amazon on their site, not only directing traffic and business Amazon's way, but bleeding their loyal customer base, as well.
posted by rich at 11:00 AM on February 24, 2005


Could someone explain the linked authors' points about rel="nofollow" changing from a good thing to a bad thing? What do they not like about it? What were the unexpected results they allude to?
posted by nobody at 11:17 AM on February 24, 2005


31d1:

I don't have any problem at all with think like wikialong because the distinction between added content and original content is very clear.

If it is difficult for the end user to confuse content added by their product with content I'm providing then I have pretty much zero issue. Having to click a button to put the changes in place on the screen is good, though not perfect in this regard.

I don't care if the end user doesn't see what I've said in the way I expected it to be seen, but I do care if people will come away from what I've said thinking I've said something else. Admittedly, coming away thinking I've recommended Amazon or Google Maps when I haven't isn't in the same ball park as coming away thinking I said I support genocide when I didn't. But it still bothers me if a tool allows readers to easily confuse what I said with what it said.

If this functionality just added something to its links to visually remind the use that it wasn't put there by me then I am ok with it.

And, of course, everybody has the right to install whatever they want that does whatever they want to their copies of my content. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to give my opinion on it.

Especially when the next step is going to be SBC doing the same thing, and including it in their startup kit, with the option turned on by default so that most normal users of the internet are hardly aware of what is happening.
posted by obfusciatrist at 11:22 AM on February 24, 2005


Robots unexpectedly did not follow.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:23 AM on February 24, 2005


rich: "For someone to be able to make money through implementing free advertising for someone else's (or their own) product through a backdoor on your site is, commercially, unfair. Your space, your money, your terms of use."

But it's not a backdoor on my server. Google never touches my server. They are no co-opting anything except IE/Win with the users consent -- as long as they are clear during the installation process I'm hard pressed to see anything wrong with this. Same for your siding contractor -- if the customer agrees, it really isn't anybody else's business.

Then again, you too are free to make your own toolbar and reap the same benefit Google does.
posted by cedar at 11:32 AM on February 24, 2005


One thing that seems rather important:

The user has to press a button to activate autolink - ON EVERY PAGE THEY WANT TO USE IT.

Download the toolbar and try. By default no changes are made to the page. It is not until you press the "autolink" button are any changes made. Thus, the first time you view the page you see it exactly how the author intended. AutoLink takes effect only after you've had the chance to see the original page and made an affirmative decision to change it.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:37 AM on February 24, 2005


obfusciatrist:"I don't care if the end user doesn't see what I've said in the way I expected it to be seen, but I do care if people will come away from what I've said thinking I've said something else."

I don't understand this logic.

Why would the user think that you have said something after they have installed the software (reading what hopefully is a clear explanation in the process) and intentionally clicked a button to add the link?

There seems to be an underlying assumption that everyone but the site developer is too stupid to distinguish between a link added (with a specific mouse cursor) when they click a button and a link that was there before they clicked the button. If they click the button it's an indication that they *want* the link and will probably notice where it came from.
posted by cedar at 11:40 AM on February 24, 2005


If Dave Winer is against it, I am for it. Whatever it is...

A simple rule, but it works well.
posted by Argyle at 11:42 AM on February 24, 2005


But that doesn't mean that as an author I have to like it when services are provided to easily subvert my intent.

As an author, you don't have to write for the Web either. You can instead place your content in a less-easily-modified form, such as paper. Problem solved.
posted by kindall at 11:42 AM on February 24, 2005


cedar - Yes, it's fine for the customer (who owns the house) to agree to the advertising.

As for the web site - I didn't say 'server', I specifically said 'site'. You, as the owner of the site (akin to the owner of the house) have not authorized advertising on your page for someone else's profit. You may not own the physical server, yes, but you pay for the space, and you build the site (the house).

I think you're confusing the user (akin to the person in a car driving by the house) with the owner (person who created the site/owns the house).

The user has no right to ask someone else (the siding contractor) to put advertising on your house to make their life easier, just as the contractor doesn't have a right without asking the *owner's* permission, not the user's permission.
posted by rich at 11:45 AM on February 24, 2005


Why would the user think that you have said something after they have installed the software (reading what hopefully is a clear explanation in the process) and intentionally clicked a button to add the link?

As I said earlier, the stuff I had read did not make it clear this was required, and it does alleviate much of my concern. But not all, since much of the time what changes may not be on the screen when you click the button and it may not be clear at that point which were links I put in and which are links that Google put in. Most of the time this distinction may not be important, but I do think it is an issue for consideration.

As an author, you don't have to write for the Web either. You can instead place your content in a less-easily-modified form, such as paper. Problem solved.

Yes, and the ultimate solution would be to not speak at all, for then my intent would be fully irrelevant. I've not said that not liking aspects of something means I should wash my hands of the whole game. But I do think the intent confusion issue is a valid concern for both the content provider and the content consumer. Perhaps Google has addressed it sufficiently.

I have not said this service should not be allowed. I have just expressed my concerns with an aspect of its implementation.
posted by obfusciatrist at 11:54 AM on February 24, 2005


rich, your analogy doesn't hold water, though. People walking by your house aren't like the users of the Internet, looking for useful information. (There's no expectation of someone walking through a neighborhood looking for advertising, information, or whatever to be on the side of houses!)

The Web was made for the easy publishing of information and images by the masses, for the masses. Google is enabling that, in the best tradition of the Net, by providing additional *relevant* information (not advertising) on the page. It is the site owners who get their panties in a bunch when enabling technologies like this come along, not the end-users (who see such features [if they ever find out about them] as usually cool).

Could this be co-opted for some nefarious Googlie-purpose in the future? Sure, but so could your IE Web browser. You put your choices in the hands of the companies you buy or download software from and if you don't like the software, don't use it. It really couldn't be simpler.
posted by docjohn at 12:06 PM on February 24, 2005


rich, I don't mean to split hairs but whether or not you call it a 'site' or a 'server', or whether the space is leased or owned, isn't the point.

All that matters is that the page is being modified in the users browser with the users consent. This is an environment that the author cannot (and though arguable, I would add, should not) claim any measure of control over.

The siding analogy only works if your talking about the original contractor being upset because the homeowner chose to allow a third-party to paint the siding. I'm the homeowner here and I'll paint, or allow others to paint, my siding however I see fit.
posted by cedar at 12:08 PM on February 24, 2005


Is it too much to ask that google would provide a meta tag like Microsoft did so that authors could disable this "feature?" I see this primarily as a "social contract" issue: publishers create pages for users to read via the client. The unwritten contract comes about because as a publisher I expect the client to render what I publish without superfluous entities. If we were talking about a screen reader for the blind, the reader might translate the text into a different language (at the most) or perhaps into a dialect, but the reader wouldn't change the meaning of the content. Slippery-slope arguments notwithstanding, the user client has an ethical and moral imperative to render what the author has created as faithfully and with as much due credit as it can. Do I think what Google has created that big a deal, no. But, BUT, I think it sets a bad precedent (and illustrates) that whomever controls aggregation and render tools - rules. Which - I think - we can all agree is what the web is not all about.
posted by plemeljr at 12:11 PM on February 24, 2005


The user has no right to ask someone else (the siding contractor) to put advertising on your house to make their life easier, just as the contractor doesn't have a right without asking the *owner's* permission, not the user's permission.

The owner/sider analogy only involves two people, while this involves three... so it really dosn't apply.

There's no reason to use analogies here, we're not stupid. I realize that a site designer might not like it, but too bad. The world dosn't revolve around them.
posted by delmoi at 12:17 PM on February 24, 2005


Why is it that every Metafilter thread about Google goes like this:
"So, Google did something bad?"
"Yes."
*reads what Google actually does* "That doesn't sound bad at all."
"But it's kind of like [really bad analogy], which is bad."
"But it's not at all like that."
"But it could be if Google also did [this], [this] and [this]."
"But they don't."
"But they could."
"My head hurts."
Anyway, my head hurts, so I'll leave it at that.
posted by boaz at 12:23 PM on February 24, 2005


The user has no right to ask someone else (the siding contractor) to put advertising on your house to make their life easier, just as the contractor doesn't have a right without asking the *owner's* permission, not the user's permission.

True, but this case doesn't match the analogy. It's more like someone buys a car navi HUD system that projects an advertisement up on the windshield when he drives by your house, so it looks like there's advertising. Sure, you didn't authorize putting advertising on your house, but nobody is putting advertising on your house. The guy with the HUD asked for the advertising to be projected onto his windshield, and an advertiser gets paid accordingly. Your house is pristine.
posted by Bugbread at 12:28 PM on February 24, 2005


This is a big problem. Inserting links into a web page is a very dangerous thing to do because links change the meaning of the text. As Winer suggested, this pretty much completely undermines free expression on the web. Hopefully somebody will sue Google over copyright issues or the somesuch and this bad idea will just go away.
posted by nixerman at 12:32 PM on February 24, 2005


Inserting links into a web page is a very dangerous thing to do because links change the meaning of the text.

Ignoring the numerous previous shouts that the user has to not only install the toolbar but actively click a button on each page to get this to show up, can I ask how linking textual addresses to maps thereof changes the meaning of the text?

Where's the map for Tempest In A Tea Pot?

Oh, and I love this:
When Google introduced the rel="nofollow" attribute, along with other industry leaders, we applauded them for moving quickly and decisively to solve a long-standing industry problem, comment and referrer spam. But in hindsight, we should have gone slower. Shortly after the release of the feature it was discovered that it radically changed the way pointing works on the Web. We learned that it's possible to take steps that have very substantial, possibly very negative, effects on the Web, ones that are difficult to take back.

He seemed pretty happy about it here when he discovered that it'll "change the way pointing works on the Web". Or was that big smiley face next to it ironic?
posted by Remy at 12:49 PM on February 24, 2005


Old enough? Someone's full of themselves, the web isn't that old.

The internet certainly is, and he's old enough to remember it. Not that I'd necessarily trust his description of it. Me, I'm just old enough to remember the debate about Netscape's extensions to html, back in 1993.

Dave Winer: If you want to understand why I never took the spec to the W3C, there it is. It's a consortium of BigCo's with a director who is an RDF advocate, and until very recently an anemic patent policy. Such an organization cannot be trusted with RSS, imho.

The other standards organizations are less familiar to me, and probably mostly are controlled by BigCo's who I don't trust (based on experience), so the RSS spec has stayed on backend.userland.com, waiting for a group of senior industry people without a major conflict of interest to work with me to figure out what's best for everyone, but most of all what's best for RSS.


hmmm....

Anyway, this auto-linking thing sounds dumb, from what I've read of it. I can already highlight any text on a web page and right-click to search for it. The search engine can try to figure out what the phrase means when it gets called on, like it's supposed to. I just tried it, and google gives me a map as the first link when I highlight an address and click search. WTF is the point of maintaining a search-engine-specific browser extension to do exactly the same thing as I can already do in a better, more general way? It doesn't even save a mouse click if you have to click a button to enable it first. Google may not yet be "evil", but they are getting dangerously close to "stupid" here.

There seems to be an underlying assumption that everyone but the site developer is too stupid to distinguish between a link added (with a specific mouse cursor) when they click a button and a link that was there before they clicked the button.

Since this feature seems to be designed to appeal to the stupidity, ignorance, and laziness of the average user, I think that's not such a bad assumption. Not like there's a shortage of those qualities in the web-using population.

I don't object to it any more than I do to a google toolbar existing in the first place. I'd prefer to see them stick to developing nifty web sites, since that's what they're good at, and leave the client side alone. Just like Microsoft should stick to dektop software and leave off with all the MSN crap, etc. But no, they all want to take over the world. Oh well, that's capitalism I guess, ugly and beautiful.
posted by sfenders at 12:51 PM on February 24, 2005


First they got Paris Hilton's. Now Dave Winer's Datebook has been hacked too. Let's take a look:
10:30 - Meeting with Bob
11:00 - Note that free expression on internet completely undermined.
11:30 - Lunch
[/I kid, I kid]
posted by boaz at 1:00 PM on February 24, 2005


everybody knows bill gates invented computers and google ain't evil.
posted by quonsar at 1:18 PM on February 24, 2005


Inserting links into a web page is a very dangerous thing to do because links change the meaning of the text.

in theory, but most users i observe don't know what links in text are. if it isn't flashing or doesn't have a monkey racing to and fro, they don't click it.
posted by quonsar at 1:21 PM on February 24, 2005


rich: The user has no right to ask someone else (the siding contractor) to put advertising on your house to make their life easier, just as the contractor doesn't have a right without asking the *owner's* permission, not the user's permission.

I think that you are confused about something.

A visit your web site. I request some data. The data is copied to my computer.

At that point, it is no longer YOUR house, YOUR site, and YOUR data, it is MY house, MY computer, and MY data.

If I want to edit the image files in MY cache to put groucho glasses on everyone. I can do it.

If I want to edit the html files in MY cache to search an alternative bookseller rather than your favorite bookseller. I can do it.

The user has no obligation to request permission of the content provider for altering content. After all, we do this all the time with our email as part of spam/virus washing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:21 PM on February 24, 2005


If I want to edit the image files in MY cache to put groucho glasses on everyone. I can do it.

For that matter, I can browse the internet with the pornolizer or the Mr. T converter to my heart's content, without asking CNN's permission to make the breaking news section display:
Hours after Pope John "Cockmonster" Paul II was hospitalized with a relapse of the scrotal flu, well-hung doctors late Thursday spurtingly performed a successful erectile tracheotomy to ease the ailing pontiff's hot and heavy breathing, a Vatican spokesman said."
posted by Bugbread at 2:22 PM on February 24, 2005


Inserting links into a web page is a very dangerous thing to do because links change the meaning of the text.

I don't think it does in this case, since people know that pushing the button will add links. It doesn't sneak up on them like "Oh gee, I didn't know Bob wanted me to buy the book he was talking about"

As Winer suggested, this pretty much completely undermines free expression on the web.

Ugh. What about your freedom as a person browsing the internet. Should spamfilters be outlawed for the sake of the free expression of the spammers? How about how (SHOCK!!!) blind people view websites in audio format (HORROR!! I DON'T LIKE AUDIO FILES ON MY SITE!!1!) completely differently than the text you wrote?

Hopefully somebody will sue Google over copyright issues or the somesuch and this bad idea will just go away.

Oh man. You just basically said "Bad laws should be bent to serve my personal beliefs."
posted by mathowie at 2:30 PM on February 24, 2005


Anyway, this auto-linking thing sounds dumb, from what I've read of it. I can already highlight any text on a web page and right-click to search for it.

Which is true and, I think, worth mentioning. However, I would offer that this action can potentially be a more complex and less generally usable form of interaction. For example, in IE6 with the Google Toolbar installed, the action to search for a map could be broken down as follows:

- Click and drag to highlight address
- Right-click and select 'Google Search'
- (if Google finds something) Scan results page for obvious target (There are multiple for maps)
- Click on target
- (if Mapquest not exact match) perhaps get suggestion page, scan for obvious target, and click again
- (if Mapquest, exact match) scroll down past ads to view map (resolution dependent)
- (if Yahoo!) scroll down past ads to view map (resolution dependent)

Which helps explain why some could view a chrome interaction as more useful for certain uses. Additionally, there are some interesting issues to consider when guiding people to select text on a web page (selection auto-completion) and scroll in an OS window (Hick's law) and use contextual menus to kickoff some action.
posted by massless at 2:44 PM on February 24, 2005


Mathowie, the problem is not that you the clued up user are being deprived of your godgiven right to add content to a webpage that you downloaded; that's a bit of a red herring.

The problem is that a large third party company has demonstrated a method and an intent to add their content to all webpages across everyone who downloads the google toolbar, many of whom are substantially less technically literate than you or I. Therefore, they may become the default filter for essentially all web viewing.

It may be a step from where they are now (must click to enable) to a bad future (enabled by default, must turn off), but it's a small step. And given what Microsoft, Real and other large companies have done in the past, are you sure that being paranoid is not a healthy defensive reaction?
posted by felix at 2:47 PM on February 24, 2005


It may be a step from where they are now (must click to enable) to a bad future (enabled by default, must turn off), but it's a small step. And given what Microsoft, Real and other large companies have done in the past, are you sure that being paranoid is not a healthy defensive reaction?

Yeah, but shouldn't we complain about the bad decision, not the good decision that may lead to a bad decision?

If my (hypothetical) lazy kid decides to enter college, wouldn't it make more sense to be happy for him than to get all pissed about the unrealized expectation that he's going to party and get stoned all day and skip classes?
posted by Bugbread at 2:54 PM on February 24, 2005


andrew cooke: ooo those nasty clients. i'm going to turn all my web pages into pdfs. that'll learn 'em.

What's this? Add Comment? Highlight?! Noooooo!!!!!

Where, God, where? Where can the crystalline purity of my vision be untrodden upon by the unclean user-side software of the Philistines?
posted by Coda at 3:03 PM on February 24, 2005


felix, smart tags were defaulted in new beta versions of IE, which could indeed trick new users. This is optional software with an optional button. Someday google could be evil with it, but until they do, I won't call this an evil move on their part.
posted by mathowie at 3:16 PM on February 24, 2005


to the "i choose how i view your content" posse: would you be happy if, for all google toolbar users, this feature was always-on and with an identical mouse pointer, so on any site they would have no idea which links were part of the author's intended content and which were ads? don't you think that the web experience for the vast majority of technically illiterate users would be.... compromised?

to the "it's ok, you have to opt-in and the pointer is different" posse: you obviously do want people to be able to tell when links are not intended by the author. so why don't we all agree that google should *make the link look different*? just to be... sure.

ps first post. gentle with me :-)
posted by touchy at 3:53 PM on February 24, 2005


I won't speak for my posses (both the "Choose how to view your content" posse and the "It's OK, you have to opt-in and the pointer is different" posse, which largely overlap), but;

No, I wouldn't be happy if the google toolbar was always on and the links identical.

and

I agree the link should look different. But it's a good thing that you have to click for every page. Together, that doesn't make Google's work evil, it makes it middling, with problems. Make the links or mouseover different, and all disagreement is gone.
posted by Bugbread at 3:59 PM on February 24, 2005


touchy: to the "i choose how i view your content" posse: would you be happy if, for all google toolbar users, this feature was always-on and with an identical mouse pointer, so on any site they would have no idea which links were part of the author's intended content and which were ads? don't you think that the web experience for the vast majority of technically illiterate users would be.... compromised?

Well, I think the other side of empowering the user is making explicit the ways in which the site is modified, and giving the user control over how the site is modified. But a lot of the arguments are not about how to empower the user to link to other kinds of content, but how to lock the user into the provider's vision of how the content should be used.

I don't know how "ads" got into this. As far as I can tell, this feature is not about ads, and google even allows you to configure it to use google competitors as the primary search engine.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:01 PM on February 24, 2005


I wonder how many stupid emails site owners will get from surfers who were upset about a link that they themselves created on the site. For that reason alone I can see people trying to eliminate the functionality via javascript. Personally I would rather like to see a script that changed all of the Google-created links to direct to one of those "Google is evil" pages. Just because.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 4:11 PM on February 24, 2005


With all this talk about choice, (again) why not have a meta tag available for authors so that they can choose not to take part in this feature?
posted by plemeljr at 4:12 PM on February 24, 2005


plemeljr: With all this talk about choice, (again) why not have a meta tag available for authors so that they can choose not to take part in this feature?

I don't mind that opt-out.

As long as it is implemented so that I as a browser can opt-out of your opt-out.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:31 PM on February 24, 2005


With all this talk about choice, (again) why not have a meta tag available for authors so that they can choose not to take part in this feature?

Why not have a meta tag so site owners can opt out of popup blocking? Why not have a meta tag so site owners can opt out of blink tag disabling? Why not have a meta tag that lets a site owner re-enable Javascript even if the user decided to disable it? Why not have a meta tag so that he can run Java applets even if the user disabled Java?

The answer to all those questions: Because a user's software needs to respect that user's preferences first and foremost. Once the user has clicked the autolink button, he has expressed a preference, one that is ignored at the software author's peril.
posted by boaz at 4:33 PM on February 24, 2005


I can't believe that nobody has yet pointed out the ultimate irony of Dave Winer's essay -- that he chose to put it on his "TheTwoWayWeb" site, but by not responding to any of the comments asking questions, expressing concerns, or stating alternative views, he's demonstrated a very OneWayWeb mindset.

Again, not a breaking news story given who's involved, but funny nonetheless.
posted by delfuego at 4:36 PM on February 24, 2005


It's a two way web: From him to his website is one way, and from his website to you is the other way. ;)
posted by boaz at 4:42 PM on February 24, 2005


Massless, I think in a thread such as this identifying yourself as an employee of the company being discussed would be useful/a good thing to do.

On topic: Google makes money by selling ads. Perhaps, in this beta period, the autolinks do not directly generate ad revenue for them, but that's also true of Google News. One of the reasons that Google News remains in beta is difficulty in matching a revenue stream to it without being subject to lawsuits from the source websites; from a technical perspective (and as someone who has run beta programs at numerous companies) I don't see any other reason for it still to be in beta.

Without overstating the case, as is Winer's wont, I suggest that in the long run Google will want/need to monetize the Toolbar. By getting out in front of the discussion now, perhaps a better outcome will result when that time comes.
posted by billsaysthis at 4:59 PM on February 24, 2005


Delfuego, but he speaks in the royal 'we'. Do you really need to know more... from Dave's mouth to God's ear... it will all be fine if people would just do what he says.

I sure hope God has an mp3 player and an aggregator that supports enclosures -- 'cause, if not, he'll never know and that would be tragic.
posted by cedar at 5:05 PM on February 24, 2005


As long as it is implemented so that I as a browser can opt-out of your opt-out.

Protect your browser from "Protect your site from Google's new toolbar".
posted by boaz at 5:28 PM on February 24, 2005


- Click and drag to highlight address
- Right-click and select 'Google Search'


...and everything after that is already in google's power to handle however they like without touching the browser.

Maybe the interface for selecting text could be better, yeah. But I don't think it should be Google doing it. Or if it is them, I don't think they should be doing it in a way that only works for links to their site. It's right-click and select "search" by the way; firefox can use any search engine. (rather annoyingly, I see that the prefs dialog to configure that is gone in 1.0)

I don't like the idea of web browsers hard-coded to point to one specific search engine, which to the extent that the google toolbar has features not available if you use some other search engine, is exactly what this is.
posted by sfenders at 5:34 PM on February 24, 2005


boaz, we might not exactly agree on this issue... but THAT is funny.
posted by plemeljr at 5:45 PM on February 24, 2005


Well, the Google Toolbar is only available for IE on Windows, and those users ought to be completely numb to that sort of shenanigans by now.
posted by jimfl at 5:56 PM on February 24, 2005


Oh, it's only for IE? Ah. Well then, I withdraw my objections. But that does make the case for it being Evil much easier to make...
posted by sfenders at 6:02 PM on February 24, 2005


With all this talk about choice, (again) why not have a meta tag available for authors so that they can choose not to take part in this feature?

It is not the author's choice how I render the content for my own viewing. The web was designed that way for good reasons. If you don't like it, publish in a less-web friendly, proprietary medium such as PDF, Flash, or Word.

That said, it is often useful for to allow the author to suggest how things should be interpreted and/or rendered, so a meta tag isn't a bad idea.
posted by stp123 at 6:32 PM on February 24, 2005


Just to continue to be somewhat of a devil's advocate; there's a lot of talk of 'authors' and 'designers' and those kind of web users/publishers. I think there is a larger commercial issue that needs examination.

Sure, it is 'not being used for evil,' but the obvious application exists there, and it opens a slipperly slope to well funded organizations to jump on the band wagon and end up having a significant impact on the value of the web to the commercial space as a medium, if no controls are in place to allow mutual consent of a sort.

(I argue that it not always just about the *user*, since there would be no user if there were no content providers to begin with).

I fully understand and appreciate the usefulness of the technology in theory. Though, in practice, it sure could homogenize the web in general if a single source is providing static suggested links for a vast majority of possible content.

As for "publish in a less-web friendly, proprietary medium such as PDF, Flash, or Word", that is simply a band-aid for this larger argument, since technology could easily parse those to create the same effect as autotagging.
posted by rich at 7:54 PM on February 24, 2005


Rich, honestly, I could take your post and transplant it into a comment thread about a new popup blocker, and it would make the same amount of sense -- the technology behind popup blockers (a browser scanning the content of a web page to decide what's acceptable and what's not) could certainly be used for evil, as well. But nobody's complaining about that, because (a) it serves a great use now, and (b) is isn't evil now.
posted by delfuego at 8:28 PM on February 24, 2005


But see, popups were evil first.

But seriously.. the difference between blocking the popup and adding content is somewhat significant, especially since blocking a popup doesn't direct you anywhere, while adding pre-fab links does. Which, along with popups being evil first, is why there is somewhat of an outcry from site designers.

I'm still analyzing it myself here, but I still am more on the side that caution must be taken in this situation.
posted by rich at 8:36 PM on February 24, 2005


Somehow, I suspect that this will all become pretty much irrelevant when it's discovered that nobody actually wants their browser to do this. It will make a small *thud* as it falls flat, before being completely forgotten. Much like all the other software of this kind that's gone before it.
posted by sfenders at 8:39 PM on February 24, 2005


Sure, it is 'not being used for evil,' but the obvious application exists there, and it opens a slipperly slope to well funded organizations to jump on the band wagon and end up having a significant impact on the value of the web to the commercial space as a medium, if no controls are in place to allow mutual consent of a sort.

And I would counter with the argument that allowing sites to override user preferences opens a slippery slope to well funded organizations to jump on the bandwagon and have a significant impact on the value of the web to a non-commercial space as a medium if no controls are in place to allow mutual consent of a sort.

That is, if I say "I'll view your page, and I will use tool X to make it appear the way I want to see it", and website B says "No, we'll disable tool X", there's no mutual consent. Allowing sites to override popup blockers or adblock is the same thing, just that in this case we happen to like the blocking side.

In regards to blocking a popup not directing you anywhere: first, I don't see that as very germaine. It's close to saying "changing content is different from blocking popups because the word popup starts with a 'p'". This function allows you to easily visit other places if they interest you, and the argument that they direct you other places is the equivalent of saying that websites have the right to make your ability to browse to other places more difficult if they so choose.

In the end, it most reminds me of folks who use javascript to block right clicking and saving images. Luckily, we can disable javascript and right click away if we so desire. I would be upset if someone decided that website designers should be allowed to enable javascript remotely when users want it off (and I'm not talking about malicious javascript exploits, because that's a separate issue and doesn't apply to this case, but about prevention of image saving, right clicking, etc). It comes from people misunderstanding what the web is and how it works, and wanting to impose technical restrictions based on this misunderstanding.

The web has always allowed user-end manipulation of content. Law has as well. Attempts to surrepetitiously change contents are bad (spyware hijackers, etc.), which is why I hope that Google will change the appearance of Google toolbar added links when the project goes from beta to live. It's why I'm happy that you have to click the button for every damn page. But attempts to override user desires and cause their machines to behave the way you want them to, not the way their owners want them to, is also bad.

Rephrased: I disagree with Google on the details, some of which are important. I disagree with people folks arguing for enforced content integrity on the very principle and foundation of the argument, which is much more important.

And, personally, I agree with sfenders: the thing will probably go *thud* when it turns out not a lot of people even want this ability in the first place.
posted by Bugbread at 5:44 AM on February 25, 2005


I can agree with bugbread on the "Rephrased" section of his argument. It's all about the implementation in the end.
posted by rich at 6:28 AM on February 25, 2005


Guys, this is a handy tool that is opt-in, every time. If I read an email through my browser or see an invite to a party and there's an address, I think "Hey, I wonder where that is," click the handy Google toolbar button, and voila, there's a link to Google Maps automagically. Because it's not automatic, it's basically the user saying "I want some more information on some content in this page."

Think of it as a smart copy/paste, not some sort of evil force that is changing your page without permission.
posted by mikeh at 8:19 AM on February 25, 2005


But seriously.. the difference between blocking the popup and adding content is somewhat significant, especially since blocking a popup doesn't direct you anywhere, while adding pre-fab links does.

Blocking popups removes you as a hit for the ad revenue of the site in question. That's significant to site owners who depend on them.

How does potentially directing you somewhere (remember - you have to install the toolbar, click the autolink button, and then click the link for whatever autolink you want) end up as a bigger violation to "author's rights" than actively chopping out revenue-producing ads?
posted by Remy at 11:52 AM on February 25, 2005


Massless, I think in a thread such as this identifying yourself as an employee of the company being discussed would be useful/a good thing to do

Ok, that's a good idea. (Course, this thread's pretty long by now and could be winding down.) Hi everyone, I work for Google. I don't work on the Toolbar team - and I'm not involved with the strategy or implementation of the Autolink feature being discussed here. I'm just interested in the UI parts being discussed here. I find toolbar vs. inline use very interesting and the subject came up in the thread.

It's right-click and select "search" by the way

My example was a specific case for IE6 with the Google Toolbar installed. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think the default label for that contextual action following a drag selection is "Google Search".
posted by massless at 1:47 PM on February 25, 2005


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