Monday, August 01, 2005

Another debate over Auto Link

The Trademark Blog

I just got around to listening to this (I normally do not listen to IT Conversations, so this just hit my consciousness).

I was a bit upset that Cory Doctorow, who is representing the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), actually said "tough shit" to content creators who do not want people to use AutoLink on their created pages. (Note to Scoble - we are content creators, not providers. Providers makes it sound like a service much like our ISPs. What we put out is just like a painting or a book.) The EFF has a long history of protecting both consumers and creators and such language only pisses off the people they will be looking to for support of future endevors.

Now let me backup a step and say that the latest version of AutoLink sounds better - the user must intentionally turn in on (versus already on by default), they get a message to let the user know AutoLink has been turned on, the hover over for the link is a different icon, and it will not override existing links. If they went 1 step further and made the added links look different from the get go that would even be better.

Personally, as long as my links do not get jacked, I could care less about AutoLink on my pages. If the one or two of you who read this actually get some utility out of AutoLink, have at it. But I could see why people would not want AutoLink on specific pages (an AutoLink to Amazon in a rant about how piss poor Amazon is would not be good) or from specific AutoLink sources. For example, when Microsoft puts in Smart Tags AutoLink (and yes, it is when, not if) you can bet places like SlashDot are not going to want Microsoft AutoLinking their pages.

As a user though one part that, at least from what I have seen, is missing is the ability for me to choose where I AutoLink to. "There's gold in them thar hills" of AutoLink. Think of what Amazon is paying for the right to have all ISBNs directed to them from Google AutoLink. You can be damn sure that both Google & Amazon are monitoring the click through rate closely. To use Cory's arguement against opt in/out, there is no business case for allowing the user to select WHERE they AutoLink to. This causes me some concern since, as a user I no longer have control of where the AutoLink takes me. That goes against Cory's arguement that AutoLink is good because of user experience. If I feel Amazon is evil incarnate and I want to shop through Barnes & Noble, then I should be able to control where my ISBNs take me. Given that the business case works against that model, I doubt there is anyway to control that.

What worries me more is the future of this. Right now the model that Google has started is very opt in on the user part, and does a good job of indicating an AutoLink vs. a creator's link (it could be a bit better though). It does not override existing links. But when (not if) the version of this comes out that automatically starts doing this with no input from the user or not being as nice about showing the added links, or worse yet it starts jacking the creator's links (particularly to affiliate programs, which is stealing to me) then we have a problem. Google may not be the company to do this, but the technology is there and not everyone plays as nice as Google (or even Microsoft).

Microsoft got ripped a new asshole when they tried this before, but for some reason because it is Google all is ok. Google may continue to be our friends (and I do believe they will), but they do have shareholders to answer to but more importantly, once the technology is out there anyone can start to play with it and do things that are not as nice. Remember that the Microsoft monopoly was not built overnight.

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