Catching Up

Looks like I missed a lot of interesting news while I was away last week. In no particular order:

The new AutoLink feature in Google’s toolbar has caused an uproar of sorts, and I agree with Dave Winer on this one. On the surface the feature seems innocent enough – perhaps even useful – but this isn’t some small toolbar vendor we’re talking about, this is the Internet OS company. As a content creator, I’m not at all comfortable with the idea that Google can add links to my site. But beyond that, as a content user I’m bothered by the idea that an external entity – be it Google or Microsoft – can insert their ads into what I read, and that’s the precedent this simple little feature sets. If nothing else, Google needs to at least provide a way for content creators to easily opt-out of this feature (and any similar features they have in the works).

Jeremy Allaire is someone I respect, so I keep watching his blog hoping he’ll post more frequently. Sure enough, on Saturday he broke his silence with a post about the XBox which was picked up by Scoble. The next day, he announced the launch of BrightCove, which no doubt benefited from the Scoble juice. I remember Jeremy talking about the “democratization of media” long before blogging was coined, so this will be interesting to watch

Likewise, the announcement about Odeo from Evan Williams got my attention. Podcasting is still brand-spanking new, but there are already companies hoping to profit from it (growing pains and all). Nice!

Speaking of profit, Jason Kottke announced his plans to make blogging his full-time job. Those who contribute $30 or more are entered to win one of the many gifts donated by companies such as my own (yep, you can win a copy of TopStyle or FeedDemon by giving to Kottke.org)

On a sadder note, GUI pioneer Jef Raskin passed away last week. Countless software developers – and more importantly, countless software users – are indebted to him for helping create The Humane Interface.

Tim Bray’s post titled “Free No Longer” contained this great snippet: “The notion that small companies with poor cash-flow should give things away is so 1999. The world has come to expect that when there’s a useful service on the Web, you either have to pay to use it…or that there will be advertising.”

…and bringing this post full circle, I just noticed that TIME magazine has a piece about Google’s AutoLink.

11 thoughts on “Catching Up

  1. Re: Autolink
    “I’m bothered by the idea that an external entity – be it Google or Microsoft – can insert their ads into what I read”
    The point that Dave W keeps failing to mention though is that this is opt-in. Sure someone could make it compulsory – which is when you guys should react, but Google are not doing that. Everyone is acting as if the end user and/or content provider have no say in this at all. You do, you can
    a. Not install the toolbar
    b. Add the script from http://www.threadwatch.org/node/1562 to your page to disable it.
    The response is all out of proportion to the threat.

    Like

  2. “The response is all out of proportion to the threat.”
    Definitely. It’s a tool that lets end-users change page display. Y’know, like the web has pretty much always allowed.
    This isn’t the end of the world.
    One point I’ve seen made is that the people freaking out are somehow not so bothered by popup blockers. Why is that okay but allowing users to create smart links is terrible?
    I’m also fascinated by the opt-out solutions people are working on. Have they really thought about the user experience there? I mean, if the toolbar works fine everywhere except *your* site, who is the user going to blame for the sudden failure? Not Google.
    Even if fighting this was a good idea, which I don’t think it is, doing so by making your own site *less functional* seems like a questionable strategy.

    Like

  3. AutoLink is opt-in, and does exactly the kind of thing you could do with a lengthy, clever bookmarklet. We’re not banning bookmarklets, though.
    I’d be more outraged if I were writing for those tech sites that have ad scripts selling ads for the mention of certain words in the stories.

    Like

  4. I guess I was not aware that their toolbar is that popular. I do not use IE other than to occasionally check a site, personally I do not know of anyone that has added the Google toolbar. While I have used Google for years to search I have never had the urge to dl their toolbar.

    Like

  5. I’m somewhat concerned about the precedent, though, Nick, if user agents aren’t allowed to do whatever they want to the content that’s downloaded. For example, FeedDemon had a popup blocker before IE implemented one, which is clearly changing the intent of a site publisher.
    They definitely should make it a platform for others to add custom link types to a site. But even if they don’t, I don’t want site publishers to start thinking they can dictate how or where I use their content, because that’s never going to lead to me being able to do new and interesting things with it. When we apply a stylesheet to a feed, what are we doing if *not* adding additional presentation and content to bare XML file? Doesn’t that change the meaning, too?

    Like

  6. You raise some good points, Anil. I hadn’t considered that point of view, but now that I have, I may reconsider my initial reaction. In this situation, it appears that the “slippery slope” goes in both directions :)

    Like

  7. I don’t see a problem with AutoLink, so long as Google always provides the ability to change the site these links point to. As I understand it you can currently change the site for maps but not books which isn’t good enough.
    I think innovation should be encouraged and believe these features are genuinely useful (unlike Vibrant Media’s IntelliTxt which is a similar concept), but they cease to be useful when, for instance, they force me to a book shop I don’t have an account at, simply because that site paid Google the most money.
    I don’t agree with the argument that it should be opt-in for the content provider – the idea is we are trying to move away from sending the user the content formatted exactly as you dictate, and towards sending just the content for them to decide how best to consume. Seperating content from display is one of the key concepts of XML, XHTML, RSS et al.

    Like

  8. I’m also fascinated by the opt-out solutions people are working on. Have they really thought about the user experience there? I mean, if the toolbar works fine everywhere except *your* site, who is the user going to blame for the sudden failure? Not Google.
    ————–
    http://www.vayablog.com/

    Like

Comments are closed.