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Old 02-21-2005   #1
Everyman
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AutoLink & Google As Anti-Webmaster

Yes, I'm going to mention the AutoLink feature in the new Google toolbar. But I don't think it's a toolbar issue as much as one more symptom of the disdain that Google has for webmasters as soon as there is the slightest chance to grab more web real estate (ie, screen pixels) from them. Here's a summary of how Google hired a Microsoft programmer to install an equivalent to the discredited SmartTags in the new Google toolbar.

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Old 02-21-2005   #2
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That was a great article. Maybe there should be a petition for a disabling tag if needed. Does anyone know if Google's new toolbar can AutoLink Javascript links?
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Old 02-22-2005   #3
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Daniel, am I missing something? The toolbar doesn't actually put any links on the page itself. It makes a button on the toolbar light up that in turn can bring me to a page -- but the ISBN text itself on the page isn't made into some type of link. For example, http://search.barnesandnoble.com/boo...SBN=0736643443, I can see the ISBN on the page, but it's not a link in any way, shape or form.

So the toolbar shield technique you describe is helpful for those worried about the toolbar, but when you say:

Quote:
Webmasters can construct a link which does nothing except stop Google. It usually does not change the appearance of the text, and it breaks the toolbar's ability to form its own link. The toolbar will still highlight it, but nothing at all will happen when the user clicks on the highlight.
It suggests the highlight is on the page -- that the toolbar is highlighting words on the page. It's not. This seems like a lot of work to do to stop the autolinking that happens only in the toolbar itself, which many won't even notice.

I agree, however, that a good solution would be for Google to allow webmasters a universal way to ban auto-linking, even if it only happens in the toolbar. That's especially so given that your sheild potentially would need to be inserted around many other types of words, if auto-linking expands.

Also, I added the words AutoLink to the thread title to further highlight this as one of the topics you are raising, so others can more easily spot it.

Last edited by dannysullivan : 02-22-2005 at 04:52 AM.
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Old 02-22-2005   #4
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Danny, I'm thinking that this is an issue that will continue to arise from time to time.

Remember Third Voice (or whatever it was called) in the 90's? This was, IIRC, a setup that would allow people using their plugin(?) to post notes that would display on the screen right over your website that could be seen by anyone using the plugin. Then Scumware. Then SmartTags. Now Google links to whatever. Therefore, I'm hoping for a more global solution than piling stacks of anti-SmartTags, anti-Google-linktags, etc. into the <head> and fighting the same fight from here on out.

It's clear that many or most webmasters and website owners are going to feel infringed upon whenever someone/something attempts to drag their website's visitors away for any reason that is not of their own implementation; there's a distinct "it's just not right" reaction. It's also true that some type of browser or plugin installation is necessary to make this kind of thing work (so far) and that that is often controlled solely by the visitor (of course, there's always inadvertently installed scumware).

It's clear that some folks don't necessarily know where to draw the line (public relations issues aside) -- which is due in part because the line has not yet been legally adjudicated. As I said elsewhere, someone somewhere is going to have to adjudicate where the browser (and toolbar) stop and the website begins -- and what is and is not acceptable and lawful.

I think there's enough bricks-and-mortar legal precedent, at least here in the U.S., to make one hopeful that such infringement-like actions will not be sanctioned by law. For instance, it's quite likely that I cannot hang signs in front of stores telling people to go elsewhere, just as it's likely that store owners wouldn't like it if I did. The difference here is that people can always do their research elsewhere before arriving at your store -- as is rightly their right to do so -- whereas the kinds of plugin implementations we've seen are implemented when they're at your site *and* actually use your site to help direct people elsewhere.

In such a legal contest, it may be that the toolbar/scumware/etc. side will win. I'll even agree that some implementations could be quite useful. However, I'm hoping that we see a legal demarcation of what can and cannot be done with such plugins and who "owns" what part of the screen.

Last edited by DianeV : 02-22-2005 at 05:55 AM.
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Old 02-22-2005   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DianeV
It's clear that many or most webmasters and website owners are going to feel infringed upon whenever someone/something attempts to drag their website's visitors away for any reason that is not of their own implementation; there's a distinct "it's just not right" reaction.
With Microsoft's SmartTags it was webmaster outrage of the sheer audacity that all the web pages in the world could be bent to their will. For AutoLinks, Google must feel that this is OK because Adwords advertising is leveraging many web sites for Google's benefit right now. Perhaps AutoLinksshould be an opt in feature for webmasters as well. That would slow adoption but it would at least let webmasters feel that they have control of their content. As for legal precedent aren't all web pages protected by copyright law?
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Old 02-22-2005   #6
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Web pages, yes, at least here. As to what is displayed in a browser-installed toolbar while surfing your site ... I don't think that has gone to court yet.
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Old 02-22-2005   #7
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My take on this one is that a web page is a web page. That is to say it's been built in a particular way as part of a conscious decision by the owner to do it so. The associations that web page has with others are carefully chosen. A webmaster has an indisputable right to display that page as they've chosen to.

Toolbars that change these web pages are causing temporary defacement. They alter the choices made by the page's designer and create associations and contexts that were not initially there.

Whilst there is useful functionality in the feature, is this justification for overriding a webmaster's right to say what they want to say how they want to say it and their right to choose their own associations or not? Furthermore is this justification for a company directing traffic to themselves? I doubt it.

Having the user have to click a button is interesting. If Google didn't have this here they'd have an outcry at the breach of webmaster's rights. Putting it there really only invites visitors to become complicit with this act, the quantity of people who want to do something doesn't make that something right although it does soften the blow to Google's image.

I hardly think the internet will keel over and die over this issue but I do think that allowing a company who claims a whiter than white reputation to step over the line is an invitation for others to do worse.
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Old 02-22-2005   #8
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Linking for Our Visitors

One thing that keeps being being pounded into our heads is how we as webmasters are responsible for who we link to. Second, that those links should be useful to our visitors.

AutoLink changes this dynamic. Will a visitor, who does not know about HTML or how web pages are built know that a link comes from Google or comes from the page designer? As a directory owner I get emails from users all the time asking me when I will fix things on a third party site listed in my directory, they have not quite grasped the fact that the directory and the listed site are not the same, I can only imagine what kind of emails I will get about Son of SmartTags (Autolink).

Now comes Google, and wants to create the illusion that a link from them is actually on our site - we take all the responsibility (and blame) but get none of the glory - and are left holding the bag. It's like a poker bluff, you aren't really holding the winning card but you convince everyone you have them. The successful illusion is indistinguishable from reality and the physical mechanics (client side or server side, first party, third party) of who is doing what between server and eyeball are irrelevant.

So on that level if Autotags goes through then there has to be a reexamination of links, accountability and liability for linking on the Web.
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Old 02-22-2005   #9
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Daniel, am I missing something? The toolbar doesn't actually put any links on the page itself. It makes a button on the toolbar light up that in turn can bring me to a page -- but the ISBN text itself on the page isn't made into some type of link.
Unless they changed it in the last two days and my toolbar won't update, then yes, in most cases, it changes the link itself.

There's an extra step of clicking on the place in the toolbar that says, "Show book info."

Apparently Google recognizes instances of a) a form with text in it that needs a spell check; b) an address that's begging for a map; c) an ISBN that passes the digit checksum test that applies to all ISBN numbers.

In the B & N link you gave, the toolbar changed to invite me to "Spell check" a form, because there was a form with a word in it already. Next to that it invited me to "Show book info."

You have to take the additional step of clicking on whatever is offered as an option in the toolbar for that particular page. That's when it highlights the ISBN. If that ISBN is not already linked, it will then offer a link to google.com when you click on the highlighted ISBN. If it's already linked, the original link prevails.

But if it's not already linked, the new link goes to google.com for a redirect to Amazon with the ISBN in the Amazon URL, which means you end up on Amazon's page for that exact same edition of that exact same book, with Amazon's price showing on that page. Instant comparison -- which I presume won't make B & N particularly happy.

The problem isn't so much that this isn't useful for a book shopper. In fact, if you buy lots of books it might be nice for the user to have this. Here's the problem: B & N is just about the only entity that's in a position to challenge this new toolbar at this point in time. They can probably work out a deal with Google somehow. That leaves all the rest of us flailing on the topic of webmaster rights, with nothing much to show by way of examples.

Then, step one: Google starts updating the millions of toolbars with this beta version in a couple of months. Step two: mission creep on the types of text it can recognize. If they do it slowly enough, Google will eventually be able to turn it into an ad medium that hijacks your links.

It's like the proverbial frog in a pan of water that's heating up on the stove. It doesn't know when to jump out.
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Old 02-22-2005   #10
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HTML Code:
<title>Google Toolbar Detection</title>
<object id="detection" classid="clsid:00EF2092-6AC5-47c0-BD25-CF2D5D657FEB"></object>
</head>
<body>
<script language="javascript" type="text/javascript">
if (typeof(detection.Search)!= "undefined") {
document.write("Google Toolbar Installed");
}
else {
document.write("Google Toolbar Not Installed");
}
</script>
use the toolbar detection script and then serve a different page...

from what I can tell it's keyword related, on the test I did anyway..

create page with just a "ISBN number" on it toolbar does not light up

create page with the text ISBN : "isbn number" the toolbar lights up and links the number..

DaveN

Last edited by DaveN : 02-22-2005 at 10:49 AM.
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Old 02-22-2005   #11
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Right, Daniel -- I see it now.

Here's where my confusion was. In past autolink things like this, you'd view a page, and links would automatically show up on them. TopText was the classic example. And bad, bad, bad. Like many other webmasters, I strongly object to anything that wants to insert things into my content. Yes, I know the arguments that maybe it's what the users wants to do. Fine -- but as the content owner, I want a way to block it.

With the Toolbar AutoLink, the links aren't automatically inserted. The Toolbar lights up -- and I went and clicked on the drop-down arrow, rather than push the button itself. That made a new window pop-up. Pushing the button -- or using the drop-down option to Add AutoLinks does insert the link on the page.

Still not as a bad as past tools that just automatically lit up words as links -- but still makes me even more strongly want a mechanism letting site owners opt-out.
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Old 02-22-2005   #12
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but still makes me even more strongly want a mechanism letting site owners opt-out.
Danny, I disagree on this one. Site owners should have to opt-in not opt-out. The burden should be on Google and site owners that want Google defacing their web pages to add a tag allowing it.

Why should site owners have to take the time and expense of putting a meta-tags or JavaScripts at the top of every page just because Google wants to cut in line?

As DianeV said how many times will we have to add special metatags to our pages once M$, Gator, L$ and all the other usual parade of horribles come slinking through the door Google kicked open?

Last edited by Brad : 02-22-2005 at 11:14 AM. Reason: fixed typo
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Old 02-22-2005   #13
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Still not as a bad as past tools that just automatically lit up words as links -- but still makes me even more strongly want a mechanism letting site owners opt-out.
This is the perfect issue to push the opt-in. I didn't realize until today that even with my technique of shielding my ISBN links on the page, I'm still unable to defeat the drop-down option for the same ISBN numbers in the toolbar itself.

What does that mean -- two opt-outs instead of one? Why not a opt-in for all extra linking derived from a particular page, whether it's a link on the page itself or a drop-down link from a toolbar? Something like a "Name=Spyware Content=AllowHijacking" meta in the header!

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Old 02-22-2005   #14
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I must agree with Brad on that one, Danny

If something is "bad" - in this case the links created on my site, then I should not have ask for that "bad" thing not to happen to me. The same logic applies to most law: I don't have to wear a sign saying "please don't beat me up".

The true honest and "not evil" thing to do would be to make it 100% opt-in - opt-out is, in my mind, just greedy!
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Old 02-22-2005   #15
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other side of the coin what if the searcher wants google to give them more info... links to maps and the like.

once the page is loaded onto there system isn't it their choice where they go next...if they want advice from google so be it ... if they want advice from Gator so be it.. it's their choice where and how they collate information..

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Old 02-22-2005   #16
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once the page is loaded onto there system isn't it their choice where they go next...if they want advice from google so be it ... if they want advice from Gator so be it.. it's their choice where and how they collate information..
I think there are many applications where this is true. To me, I draw the line between personal and commercial use (I know, it's not always easy to define). Google is already taking my site content and use it for commercial purpose (no, they don't do it to save the world, in case anyone still think so ) but I get trafic in return - so it's a fair deal to meand therefore I don't do anything about it. But now they want to use the stolen content to display other information and who knows, maybe ads. Thats just not a fair deal.

On the other hand, if they made this an opt-in program in line with AdSense then I think it could possibly be quite successfull. I am sure many site owners would chose it to drive additional revenues and I am sre many AdWords advertisers would gladly extend their campaigns to this media too. Just make it opt-in! Opt-in for advertisers and sites alike. Please!
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Old 02-22-2005   #17
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A browser should be a faithful rendition of the page as it was intended to be displayed by the owner-originator of that page.

If I was given a photocopying machine that inserted material in the margins for commercial purposes, I wouldn't like it. But even if I did like it, I should expect that everyone who owns stuff that might be copied on my machine would have objections.

The browser situation is even more serious, because unlike a copying machine with added content in the margins, the extra material that appears in a browser is derived from the content itself. It's more seductive and more distracting.

This also gets to the entire issue of whether contextual advertising is good for us. Sergey and Larry think that we should be grateful for their ads because unlike lots of other advertising, Google's ads are more relevant.

Haven't we moved the goalposts here? If I have to tolerate ads as a member of a capitalist society, I think irrelevant ads are preferable to relevant ads, because they are less distracting and easier to ignore.

But rather than get into an argument about ads, let's keep it on-topic. Who should have the power to decide how your web page is presented? The reader or the creator? If the reader wants more information, he can copy and paste the content into another application, which can slice and dice it all it wants, for all I care. But that should be one huge step removed from the presentation in the browser itself.

"The hand that rocks the cradle..." --oops, strike that.

"The hand that controls the defaults, rules the world."

Last edited by Everyman : 02-22-2005 at 12:31 PM.
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Old 02-22-2005   #18
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Danny, I disagree on this one. Site owners should have to opt-in not opt-out. The burden should be on Google and site owners that want Google defacing their web pages to add a tag allowing it.
Good point -- and even better to make it opt-in.

I think the difficulty is that there is a user side to this. Some users load up browsers with add-ons to make pages get enhanced with features they want. Do you then require an opt-in for all of that?

For example, there's a nice hack I've been meaning to explore that lets you find links marked as nofollow in Firefox and highlight them differently. If I use a plug-in to do this, do I have to also get the site owner to opt-in to allow it? Do they need to opt-out of it?

Heck, we've had arguments from a few that crawler indexing should be opt-in, not opt-out. Most I think don't mind it being opt-out because they see a benefit in being indexed. But links on your pages from someone else? Yeah, what was my benefit from that again?

Quote:
As DianeV said how many times will we have to add special metatags to our pages once M$, Gator, L$ and all the other usual parade of horribles come slinking through the door Google kicked open?
Perhaps this is something we can raise at the indexing summit, sort of related. Rather than a different meta tag for each system, perhaps there's a standard meta tag or robots.txt command we can use to opt-out of all types of systems like this that voluntarily choose to support it. As a would-be good corporate citizen, I think there'd be great pressure on Google to do so -- and for others to follow.

Anyway, opt-in, sure -- but it's more complicated that it seems especially as Firefox grows and we get all these great new plug-ins that can do mark-up to pages as well.
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Old 02-22-2005   #19
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For example, there's a nice hack I've been meaning to explore that lets you find links marked as nofollow in Firefox and highlight them differently. If I use a plug-in to do this, do I have to also get the site owner to opt-in to allow it? Do they need to opt-out of it?
It's not an easy issue, I agree. But it's easier than the way you represent it. Take U.S. copyright law as an example. The "fair use" provisions are deliberately vague, but they do suggest two criteria that should be considered. One is whether the use is for the purpose of making money -- and implicitly, this could be money that the copyright holder might otherwise retain. The other is the quantity of use -- quantity becomes a qualitative issue at a certain vague point.

It all has to be done on a case-by-case basis, because the waters are muddy. If Google didn't have a $50 billion market cap, and was not hell-bent on increasing it, I might feel more generous.

The user's point of view should not be primary, despite what Google's public relations people would have us believe. The health and welfare of society -- in this case, the Internet -- should be primary.

The best way to protect the Internet is to keep the power decentralized. Google is not exactly my idea of a democracy.
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Old 02-22-2005   #20
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Good points. I find it surprising that Google, a California company, has not considered the words "intentional interference with prospective economic advantage" ... what could they be thinking?
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