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February 17, 2005



What's the problem here?

- It's not turned on by default
- It must be downloaded by choice
- It's not supplied by the OS manufacturer
- It doesn't alter existing links
- And some users could find the feature quite useful

Actions by OS monopolies are fundamentally different than actions by non-OS monopolies.

Julian Bond

Let's take an alternate hypothetical view. Say I wrote a Firefox extension which let you highlight a zipcode and added a right click option to launch a new window with a search into Google Maps and called it GoogleMap. I think you'd all be clapping me on the back for a clever hack. Now let's say I "improved it" so that it found zip code like entries in web pages and automatically turned them into google maps links if they were plain text. You'd appreciate the improved ease of use. Now let's say I licensed the code to Google and they gave it away. Now you'd hate it because it was evidence they were evil?

I'm really not sure there's anything wrong with giving away a browser enhancement that adds value to a browser by providing links to your properties. We seem to be completely happy with doing this in the toolbar area or in the right click menu. Is the display area so sacrosanct that it's off limits?

Well what about tools like AdBlock then? What would we feel if the Google toolbar brought that functionality to IE?


Ack! You can change the map provider to mapquest or to yahoo, and Google does not make a browser!

This is 180 degrees different from what Microsoft did. Microsoft did not let you change smart tag smarts from Microsoft to anyone else, and Microsoft DID make the browser.

This is google just adding some smarts to your browser.

And I use firefox....

(Just say no to Andrew Orlowski and his favorite hobbyhorse!)


In the meantime, how many research projects are out there trying to create the semantic web? Google is showing that with some very scalable algorithms, how much value they find and can provide in a semantic web.


Hmm. I don't understand how they can do this. Setting aside all of the questions of adding additional value, etc, there's a fundamental issue that I just can't get past.

When an author publishes a web page on the internet, under current US law as I understand it, that content is immediately protect by copyright. When a piece of software makes changes to that content before that page is delivered to the user (by inserting HTML anchors or java script for hyperlinks) how can this be construed as anything other than the creation of a derivative work? More specifically, isn't this inherently an unauthorized derivative work?

I know Google makes a lot of money and, like Microsoft, probably has an entire building full of lawyers, but how can they think it's possible to release something like this? Isn't this inherently widespread copyright infringement under current (though controversial) US law?

F. Andy Seidl

Dan, I might agree with you on your Google position, but I know I disagree with you on your Smart Tag position.

The common misconception--which you appear to share--with respect to smart tags is that Microsoft controls the smart tag subscriptions, i.e., what phrases are tagged and what they are tagged to. This is simply not the case.

MS provides a platform (their Office applications) that recognize smart tags. *But*, that platform only recognizes the smart tag subscriptions to which a user subscribes. Thus, Office is no more than a smart tag client application just as an RSS reader is an RSS client application. In both cases, the subscriptions (i.e., smart tags or RSS) dictate what the client application will do.

Smart tags are actually *incredibly useful*. For a good tutorial/demo of smart tags in action (using smart tags that MS has no control over), look at:

(For the record, I am affiliated with MyST Technology Partners, the site to which I referred you.)

Hiawatha Bray

I'm with Andy Seidl. I think Microsoft's smart tags were a clever idea with a lot of potential. They didn't bother me in the least. And having read Dan's lament about the new Google toolbar, I can't wait to try it.


Greg, I think what we have here is a "Fair Use" situation, in that I can do whatever I want with the copyrighted content for my own personal use.

One example of this is ad blocking. I wrote code a few years back to scan incoming web pages and comment out links to things that I decided were ads. I'm not modifying the source web page, only the version that is given to me.

Heck, otherwise it would be illegal to surf without images turned on...

Dan Gillmor

What they're doing is certainly legal. I just think it's questionable in other ways.

Gary Price

The comparison to MS SmartTags in my SEW Blog post was not in implementation but how this was one of many services that provide additional
"related" content based on the content of the page. I was also focusing on SmartTags as they relate to Office Documents. Perhaps I should have been clearer. In addition to the comments about MS SmartTags linked a few posts above this entry, Battelle's blog also has a comment about MS SmartTag misconceptions and how they relate to what Google is doing.


There is a button on the toobar that says 'Autolink' . When you click it, it scans the page looksing for addresses and such. It does nothing automatically, *you* need to click for the highlighting to take effect. Try going to a contact page of a web site that lists a street address. the button changes to 'Find Map', or if it sees ISBM numbers, changed to 'Show Book Info'. When you click on it, takes you to the appropriate place. nothing happens without user intervention.

Joe Bennett

It sounds like the proverbial 'camel's nose' to me.


I find this massively annoying. Is there some meta tag I can use to tell Google NOT to add any links within my content?

If not, how can I block Google toolbar access to my sites? There must be some nifty .htaccess trick that will do this.

I hope a Google rep will come along and respond to your post. I'm fine with their innovations as long as they give site owners the chance to opt out. Where is that chance?


I don't see the problem, especially since Google apparently has implemented it in such a way that it (1) requires user action to invoke and (2) doesn't interfere with existing links.

If what Google is doing is questionable, then what about software that remove web bugs or ads? I use a Safari add-on called Pith Helmet that supports running web pages through arbitrary filters, which has come in handy to fix broken pages that don't work in Safari.

More generally, how is it different than recording a TV show and fast-forwarding through the ads? (This is something my VCR does automatically without any manual intervention.) Or the special DVD player that can automatically skip the "naughty" parts of a movie?

Brian Carnell

"When an author publishes a web page on the internet, under current US law as I understand it, that content is immediately protect by copyright. When a piece of software makes changes to that content before that page is delivered to the user (by inserting HTML anchors or java script for hyperlinks) how can this be construed as anything other than the creation of a derivative work? More specifically, isn't this inherently an unauthorized derivative work?"

Right. Presuambly Dan will be bitching about Ad Blockers next. I use a Firefox plugin which alters the content of web pages by *not* displaying any Flash they have installed.

Saying "you can't change the content" is plain stupid. The problem with MS was taht people thought it would be installed with IE 6, turned on by default, and only point to where MS wanted it too. That's worlds away from a plugin which users can choose to download -- OR NOT.

Scott Cropper

Everyone seems to be up in arms about the new Google Toolbar but I don't think most have even picked it up before putting it down.

Here are the facts :

1. The toolbar has to be installed first before it can do any autolinking.
2. Autolinking is off by default so it has to be turned on after installing the toolbar.
3. The toolbar does not change existing links, only text that is not currently linked.
4. The toolbar has the option of choosing which map service you would like to use; Google Maps, MapQuest or Yahoo! Maps.
5. VIN numbers, although rarely found as plain text, link to CarFax's website and show the vehicle details.
6. Tracking numbers go to the corresponding companies package info page. These are also rarely found as plain text except in emails.
7. ISBN numbers take you to Amazon's website and show the book details. This will make a plain text ISBN a link to Amazon even on Barnes and Noble's website.
8. Its a beta release.

Except for # 7 there is nothing wrong with what the Google Toolbar does. It has to be chosen by the user, turned on and does give options and behaves nicely. Google should give the option to choose which service you want it to use for the VIN and ISBN detailed information. Other than that I don't know what all the fuss is about.

Dan Gillmor

Scott, for many folks, including me, #7 looks like the camel's nose under the tent.

I hope Google will make this thing entirely opt-in at every step -- especially with stuff like #7. People tend to accept the default in what they use, and when one company has dominance in a category its default is pretty much what rules.


It seems I approach this from an entirely different ideology than anyone else!
Fine, it's not turned on by default, and users can turn it off, but my concern is more about the right of content-providers to turn it off.
As a designer and site owner, I decide the links from my pages, not the visitor, and certainly not a third party.

Andy Baio

NRT: I disagree. Unlike any other media, one of the best distinctions of the web is that the user, ultimately, decides what they see. They can turn off images or change the design, decide to block popups and advertising, and they can use extensions and plugins to rewrite links, text, or functionality.

If you don't like that, perhaps you shouldn't publish a public website.


Evil or not, Google has managed to make gung-ho advocates of Google like me into gung-ho haters of Google. Not even Microsoft has managed that. This can't be good for Google's business.


If Google is so interested in the user experience why not open up AutoLink completely? Give users the opportunity to use any links database they choose, and give site owners an opt out.

For now I'm installing link-killers like these:

I notice the sleazy insinuation they are putting on people who object to having links arbitrarily added to their web pages: "we do not provide a way for webmasters to disable features such as AutoLink and the Popup Blocker on their visitors' Toolbars." reads their standard reply e-mail.

Pop-ups were a real problem for users, carrying all sorts of undesirable content and breaking the user experience. Not linking to an online map or book is not such a problem and casting pop-up blocking and AutoLink in the same light is disingenuous to say the least.

John Magnus

I've written a rather lengthy rant about this issue on my blog that you or (your readers) might be interested in. Although I raises few points that haven't been voiced elsewhere, I've also posted a script that "removes the malarkey" (and fixes a couple of issues with the script that's currently "floating" around.). Also some info on what's being modified and how to "capture" it...

You can find the post at:;Google-malarkey


Take action! Modify Google. This website makes it happen.

I wonder what google thinks about it ? LOL

David Morrissey

Hi Folks,

I was just surfing around and came across this page. I will say at the outset that I did not know much (read: anything) about the AutoLinks feature in the Google Toolbar until I arrived here, so my information may be soemwhat limited.

Nevertheless, I would like to add my comments, since often someone from the outside is best to give a fresh view on things.

Here are some things I have gathered from this page (I have decided to put my responses below each instead of at the end of all):

1. The funtioning of Auto-link is User-initiated and User-customized (except for Amazon links from ISBN).

1R. So long as it remains this way (User-dependent), then I am all for it. This also understands that the User always gets to view the page unaltered first, then you can turn _everything_ into a link if you want. If there were an app that gave one the ability to highlight one's own text, right-click it and choose to search on it, I would pay good money for it ($7 CDN max for a single-function app).

2. Site owners are some of the most upset ("I decide what's a link, not my visitors")

2R. While I agree that the content of a page should first appear as the author intended, once I have my copy, why can't I annotate the margins, so to speak? A little control-freaky wanting to control a visitor's every click, no? The Web is interactive, and the more interactive you make your site, the more people will return to it (eg. this very site itself).

3. People keep mentioning the "hijacking" (or words to that effect) of pages and the lack of choice in where they are directed.

3R. This sounds like reactionary propaganda to me... If nothing happens until the User clicks the button, what are you all bitching about? The "original" content is delivered, after which the User can initiate all kinds of changes, the flavour of which is for the most part customizable (I agree... it should ALL be customizable). Where is the harm in that?

4. Mention is also made of a link as a vote of confidence by the page author, and that, if more links are added, then they are fraudulently presenting themselves as "supported", or "OK'd" links.

4R. This thinking is Pre-Toolbar ;-) No, seriously, all it takes is a minor shift in what is common practise, and this becomes a non-issue. If, instead of just putting a link under a word (which is elegant, I agree), you were to put the link in a superscripted number at the end of a word (like a footnote notation), then any words that are converted by the toolbar are clearly identifiable as not inteded by the author, and neither is the author responsible for the content at the other end. (Actually, I just came up with the footnoting idea on the fly, and now that I think about it, I think it would be slightly more elegant than the simple linking of a word, as it would more resemble literary practise). The times they are a-changin', boys and girls. You can't stop /that/ they're changin' but you can influence /how/ they change.

My $0.02, to do with as you will

Best Toolbar is my favorite toolbar and it uses every major search engine so you do not need multiple IE toolbars! This toolbar doesn't track any user data or web searching (unlike the others).

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