Friday, March 25, 2005

Google AutoLink is Not Evil (Apologies to William Gibson)

Suppose someone created a pair of really cheap magic glasses that when you wore them and you looked out at the world they would add visual information to what you saw. When you looked at buildings they would add little annotations that told you what companies or public services were available in the building. When you looked at a book it would tell you a synopsis of the book, it's cost and some comparison price shopping information. When you went to a museum and you looked at works of art they could give you information about the artist, they would highlight information on the artists technique and pointed you to other artists in the same period, influences, and artists that they have influenced. Wouldn't these glasses be useful? This is what Google AutoLink does in your web browser. This argument has been raging for a while. IT Conversations has a great panel show on it (Denise Howell's Sound Policy: Google's AutoLink with Cory Doctorow, Robert Scobel, and Marty Schwimmer) and I highly recommend listening in to get a good synopsis of the controversy. it seems that folks are aligned in two camps. The first is the "Content Providers" who say that AutoLink changes the way they originally intended their pages to be rendered and may provide links to competing web pages, etc. The second is on the side of users who argue that any new tool to enhance the browsing experience is inherently good. I tend to fall in with the second camp as long as the user has the choice to turn this feature off. That would be my only restriction. I have to be able to take off the glasses.

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