Because I forget stuff. Part of

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Originally posted February 25 2005 at 21:02 under Web. Comments Disabled. Trackbacks Disabled.

Google Autolink


The new beta of Google’s famous IE (Windows only) toolbar introduces a feature called Autolink. Essentially this provides a toolbar button that when clicked converts an ISBN, a street address, etc. into a clickable link taking you to the appropriate page of sites like, Google Maps, etc. This sounds a lot like Microsoft’s ill fated Smart Tags and is stirring up much the same controversy—somewhat tempered by Google’s historical position as the “good guys”. The big problems produced by Smart Tags/Autolink technology are neatly summarised by Zeldman. And from a few places comes a link to a still relatively obscure script to disable Autolink on your web pages. I actually installed this script on this site last night (along with installing the IE—shudder—toolbar and putting up a test page), and linked to it in the Links of the Moment section. And then this morning I read Phil Ringnalda’s response, where he introduces a favlet to disable the Autolink disabling (itself quite simple for the designer to circumvent—simple change the function name in the original script), but more importantly gives his reasons for doing so. Some of them make good sense.

So now I’m wondering, just how much of a king is the user? It’s not like I’ve never messed around with a site myself. I’m skilled enough with CSS to completely re-skin a site if I feel like it, but that’s just playing around with presentation. Then again, it’s not like I’ve never used display:none !important; to completely hide some aspect of a page and I have adblock installed to block the loading of certain images, etc. Those two things are undoubtedly playing around with content. The difference seems to be that these techniques remove content whereas Google is adding content (in the form of additional links the author didn’t code). It’s still playing with content though, on a local, not redistributed level.

The other objections to Autolinks aren’t really for the designer to deal with. It’s the user’s choice if they wish to expose themselves to the risk of being tracked using these links for instance. The only real problem is a larger social one in that the companies linked to with Autolinks become (even) bigger to the detriment of others, and the unilateral introduction of such a potentially powerful way to control the internet’s usage by a for profit company is worrying.

The conclusion is I’ve decided I’m undecided on the issue. On the one hand such a technology by a large mega corporation (that’s Google which ever way you look at it) stinks. On the other the user’s life might be made easier, and there is an argument they can run whatever CSS and scripts they like with their browser. So for now I’ve disabled the disabling script. It’s still linked to (because that’s easier) but does nothing. For now.

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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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