Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Autolink in Google Toolbar

Gary Price writes about the latest version of Google Toolbar. It includes a feature called Autolink:
    With "AutoLink" enabled, web pages will be "enhanced" with additional links if Google thinks additional information might be helpful. For example, say your browsing a web page with numerous addresses on it. AutoLink will turn each of those addresses into direct links to the Google Maps database.
In addition to addresses, it will also add links for ISBNs (books, mostly), package tracking numbers, and vehicle identification numbers. Gary says, "The commercial possibilities are massive."

Useful, but this one makes me a little squeamish. Google is now modifying the web pages displayed. The modifications are useful, sure, but what does it do to Mapquest to have all addresses everywhere pointing to Google Maps? What does it do to Barnes & Noble if all ISBNs point off to Amazon?

Taking this a step further, what if your web browser rewrote all your web pages? Would you be happy if IE pointed all addresses it recognized off to Encarta Maps?

16 comments:

Mark Finkle said...

While I can see why you might be squeamish, I have to make a counterpoint: (1) This is a feature in an IE addon that you choose to install to make your life easier and (2) You can turn it off.

What if it was MS Word or Outlook autolinking people's names it recognized as email contacts or street addresses. Office 2003 does this now.

Steve Kirks said...

Mark: in the Outlook metaphor you cite, the user controls the source of the data in those links. In Google's (or MS) situation, they control the data. I like the idea of the convenience, but the lack of oversight means that I should vote with "dollars" like a good consumer. Uninstall and move on.

Gerry said...

I find it much more disturbing that some people are still using Internet Explorer over Firefox.

But back on topic: Sure Google's monopoly might hurt other companies, but Google is just providing the option, your the one making the choice to use it.

Without a doubt (if this is useful) there will soon be a Firefox plug-in (if there isn't one already) that will allow you to turn all map text, ISBN, VINs and other appropriate text into links to pointing to the sites of your choosing.

levee said...

The element of choice is what's important here.

Microsoft do not have the trust of the public, for the software monopolies they hold and for the perceived lack of security in many of their products.

Google, on the other hand are not (currently) charging for these utilities. I prefer the deskbar myself - this doesn't tie me into IE and is always present. Fact is, I chose to install it.

Perhaps Google are moving into monopoly territory, but justly so. Other search engines are following, but Google leads. As long as they continue to innovate!

Big Bear said...

Regarding what Gerry stated, I have tried Mozilla Firefox and I have also tried the e-mail program Mozilla Thunderbird, and I liked them both ok, but I have gone back to Internet Explorer for the simple fact that the computer still uses Internet Explorer if you have the WIN-XP (SP1 or SP2) like I have...The features of Firefox are nice, and you can suggest to them what you'd like to have as a Firefox plug-in, but the computer still uses Internet Explorer for computer updates/security updates for example and other things.

I actually used an e-mail program called Calypso and I have used Outlook Express also, but am using Incredi-mail right now, but may go back to Outlook Express.

Big Bear said...

Regarding what Gerry stated, I have tried Mozilla Firefox and I have also tried the e-mail program Mozilla Thunderbird, and I liked them both ok, but I have gone back to Internet Explorer for the simple fact that the computer still uses Internet Explorer if you have the WIN-XP (SP1 or SP2) like I have...The features of Firefox are nice, and you can suggest to them what you'd like to have as a Firefox plug-in, but the computer still uses Internet Explorer for computer updates/security updates for example and other things.

I actually used an e-mail program called Calypso and I have used Outlook Express also, but am using Incredi-mail right now, but may go back to Outlook Express.

Konic said...
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sixaxis said...

I may be more of a control freak than I previously thought but I am very specific about the content I link to from my pages. Until now, I could claim that all my outgoing links were to sites I have personally visited and trusted to have safe, reliable and relevant content. Now I will have to post a warning: The webmaster has no idea where some of the hyperlinks on this site may lead. Surf at your own risk. YUK!

sixaxis said...

I may be more of a control freak than I previously thought but I am very specific about the content I link to from my pages. Until now, I could claim that all my outgoing links were to sites I have personally visited and trusted to have safe, reliable and relevant content. Now I will have to post a warning: The webmaster has no idea where some of the hyperlinks on this site may lead. Surf at your own risk. YUK!

Greg Linden said...

A lot of good points from many people here. Thanks, everyone.

To clarify my original post, I'm not so concerned about what Google Toolbar currently does with Autolink. It is what may follow that bothers me.

Rewriting pages to add links is a dangerous trend. While Google's current implementation may be fine and dandy, it may also be the first step on a slippery slope.

Orielis said...

A somewhat different perspective here. I operate an internet used book store, and I know that at least some of my traffic comes from Google/Froogle. I would not appreciate Google redirecting my customers to Amazon to buy their book from one of my competitors. How likely that would be I have no idea (since they've already navigated to my page), but it is a consideration.

Of course, many of my books do not have ISBNs and would not be affected, but there are thousands of online booksellers who could be subject to this feature.

The Great And Powerful Bob said...
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The Great And Powerful Bob said...

there is one big difference between the MS "smart tags" and Google auto link.

that difference is choice, with microsoft it's part of the browser you just have to accept it. with google it's voluntary you have to install their toolbar, if you don't have the toolbar it doesn't affect you.

they give you a choice of google,yahoo, & mapquest to use for your maps in the auto link, so i would expect the same flexibility in the other portions of the feature, so it seems to me that theres not really anything not to like about it yet.

i do wish they had a version of they're toolbar for firefox though since i now only use ie when absolutely necessary.

Robert said...

Don't get boondoggled by all the "freedom of choice" talk.

Sure, a person doesn't have to download the toolbar. But, that's not the issue.

The issue is in giving up control of how your Website or Blog operates on the user level.

Do you really want certain words and phrases to become hotlinks to sites not of your choosing?

Do you really want to drive your potential customers to your competitors?

Think about it.

Then, if you still feel unthreatened and yes, unviolated, do nothing.

The rest of us will let Google know just what we think of their plans.

While you're making up your mind, read
this.

Scott Cropper said...

Everyone seems to be up in arms about the new Google Toolbar but I don't think most have even picked it up before putting it down.

Here are the facts :

1. The toolbar has to be installed first before it can do any autolinking.
2. Autolinking is off by default so it has to be turned on after installing the toolbar.
3. The toolbar does not change existing links, only text that is not currently linked.
4. The toolbar has the option of choosing which map service you would like to use; Google Maps, MapQuest or Yahoo! Maps.
5. VIN numbers, although rarely found as plain text, link to CarFax's website and show the vehicle details.
6. Tracking numbers go to the corresponding companies package info page. These are also rarely found as plain text except in emails.
7. ISBN numbers take you to Amazon's website and show the book details. This will make a plain text ISBN a link to Amazon even on Barnes and Noble's website.
8. Its a beta release.

Except for # 7 there is nothing wrong with what the Google Toolbar does. It has to be chosen by the user, turned on and does give options and behaves nicely. Google should give the option to choose which service you want it to use for the VIN and ISBN detailed information. Other than that I don't know what all the fuss is about.

saltypig said...

Do you really want certain words and phrases to become hotlinks to sites not of your choosing?

no. that still doesn't make it any of my business how people view my web site. "freedom of choice" "boondoggle"? huh? what kind of talk is that? you either have the right to control what people do on their computers or you don't. i say you don't.

everybody, don't get "boondoggled" by the "control freak" talk.