I just read about Google Toolbar 3 and an alarming feature of it in the latest issue of Internetworld . I hadn’t really read about it before, but the thing that upsets me is the AutoLink feature.
A good blog post about it was written by Kottke.
Basically, what it does if you have it installed (it can only be installed in Internet Explorer on a pc), is that it automatically turns ISBN numbers in a page into links to Amazon, addresses into links to Google Maps, Car license plate numbers into links to Carfax and Package tracking numbers into links to UPS.
Like the example in the editor’s column, if you navigate to Barnes & Noble, ISBN numbers in their pages were turned into links to Amazon (they have now implemented a fix so this doesn’t happen anymore).
I think this is a horrific behavior, alternating the content of different web sites, deciding like a God what, for instance, information about books should link to.
This is what Microsoft initially tried to introduce in version 6 of Internet Explorer with their SmartTags, but it was stopped by a storm of criticism. And now it turns out that the developer behind SmartTags is behind Google’s new AutoLink feature.
Even Microsoft employee Robert Scoble is against it, and he got an interesting feisty comment from a Google employee.
And, of course, people are already implementing fixes as well for this. And if it stays this way, many sites will have to implement fixes if they don’t partner up with Google…
I’m also worried about the implications of this. If this keeps up, I’m worried that this feature will indeed be installed in upcoming versions of web browsers, and in the future the user will never be sure where a link might lead, if it’s an intentional link by the web site, or if it
is added on by your web browser/toolbar etc.
PS. Normally, I try to write daily Monday to Friday, but with Easter coming up I’ll write next post on Tuesday March 29th. For you developers reading this, if you, as opposed to me, have some spare time during the weekend, I recommend reading Roger’s excellent piece Developing With Web Standards. DS.