March 3, 2005

AutoLink on WaPo and Kottke.

Google AutoLink Pits Convenience, Ownership Issues ( and Kottke's thoughts on it. Like all things pitting users against publishers, this one is sticky as heck. Comments enabled (I shut them off of the old story as it was way too far below the fold) :-)

Also, please note, those for and against AutoLink, Google is listening to you and we will act at some point. Don't be so quick to judge us evil or not. I personally know that regardless, there will always be those who detest us for whatever reason, but I have confidence in Google to do the right thing by Users and Publishers, so if I sounded harsh in earlier posts, please excuse that as a view into my passion for Google and user rights, two things that are very important to me and close to my heart.


PhilC said...

You siad, "You're wrong. The user has rights. Other wise, you don't get to have any users."

Of course users have rights - nobody suggested that they don't. What I said was that users dont have any rights to change the content of a web page unless the webmaster gives it to them. Users don't have that right, and Google doesn't have that right. So it's you who is wrong, Chris, not me. Not only that, but users don't expect to be able to change a web page's content.

You and Google seem to imagine that websites are semi-public property because they are on the web. They are not. And you seem to imagine that Google has a right to help people navigate through this mass of semi-public property by modifying it. Google doesn't. It isn't even a matter for debate. What belongs to person belongs to that person, and nobody has any right whatsoever to change it without permission.

It's worse than your cache system because at least there's an opt-out for that. But I wonder how many people know that Google uses other people's bandwidth to operate the cache system. The text and HTML is stored by Google, but, if there are graphics on the page, they are retrieved from the website owner's server. So the owner is paying for people to stay in your site. That's immoral.

The images directory is much worse but I won't get into that - and there is an opt-out. But there is no built-in opt-out with autolink. Look at what happened with the Barnes & Noble site. Was that a huge embarrassment for Google, or do the people there have delusions of grandeur and imagine they are above everyone else?

Chris, I gather that you are looking at the autolink issue from a user's perspective, and I accept that it can be a benefit to users. I don't think anyone thinks otherwise. But you just can't go modifying other people's property no matter how useful it is for people. If websites allow you to do it, fair enough. But if they don't want you to do it, you are very much in the wrong if you do it. When double cassette and video players came out, they were challenged in the courts because they allowed people to make illegal copies. But the challenges were defeated because copies can be made quite legally. With autolink, there is no other use to which it can be put other than immorally, and probably illegally, modifying other people's property.

Chris DiBona said...

So when you say "What I said was that users dont have any rights to change the content of a web page unless the webmaster gives it to them. Users don't have that right, and Google doesn't have that right." you think then that there can be no:

1) caching proxies.
2) pop-up/under/ad blockers.
3) search engines
4) bibliographies
5) fair use

So, yeah, we disagree. And yes, it is up for debate and will be for a long long time. I don't think that you and I can find a common ground.

iBall said...

The problem I have with this is that my web pages are part of my advertising and marketing strategies.

Like any advert, users have the choice to ignore it and go and look elsewhere. Now that's the important concept, they have to look elsewhere.

If the user doesn't like my ad in a magazine or the yellow pages they can simply turn the page, they have that choice and I accept that. If they're driving down the road and see a billboard they can either act upon it and call the 1800 number at the next rest room or ignore it.

Yes the toolbar does allow them to look elsewhere but where's the choice? Instead of giving the user a choice it simply points them to the company with the largest marketing budget.

Now my website is mine, not the user's, not Google's and definately not my competitors'.

Yes it's my advertising space, I pay to host it, I pay for the bandwidth and I pay to design the content. I own it and have full editorial control over it. If I want to place other adverts on the pages then I can, and even Google's Adsense programme allows me to filter out adverts from direct competition.

But the toolbar doesn't allow this. It simply makes the ads available totally ignoring my editorial and copyright controls.

If I were to hijack every copy of the yellow pages before they were delivered and placed my ads over everyone elses would that be legal, and how much choice would the user have then?

If I hijacked every magazine that I advertised in and placed my ads over everyone elses would that be legal, and how much choice would the user have then?

And if I hijacked every billboard and placed my ads on them. Ads that someone else had paid for to have designed, that someone else had paid for to have them at the busiest intersections, would that be legal, and how much choice would the user have then?

No I'm sorry, as far as I'm concerned the internet is nothing more than an electronic advertisng medium and the fact that you are now hijacking others marketing material is not only immoral and illegal, but will also remove user choice, not add to it.

I think that Google have got it very wrong, but hey big corporations, big bucks, big balls, what chance has the little guy got?

What's the answer? Give the webmasters the code to place into our robots.txt file and then do whatever you want.

PhilC said...

You are right that you and I (and everyone else who has made a comment) don't see eye to eye, Chris. You think it's ok to modify people's property without their permission - I (we) dont. Ok.

Here's something else. The autolink feature *breaks* the browser's normal functionality, and that is very bad.

When a new browser instance opens, holding the mouse over a link causes the URL to display in the status bar, and it stays displayed until the mouse is moved away from the link. But once the autolink button is pressed, the status bar display always disappears after about a second. And it stays that way for that browser instance no matter where the person goes on the web. Once the buitton is pressed, normal browser functionality is broken - or, more accurately, hijacked.

I don't think I need to expound on what I think of that particular aspect.

PhilC said...

On second thought, I think I will expound on it a bit.

It appears that Google has decided to prevent people seeing the URL in the status bar, because 1 second (or less) is much too short a time to give it a good look. Perhaps Google has decided that people don't really want the URL in the status bar anyway. Or perhaps Google has decided to hide the targets of the hijacked links as best they can.

I'd be interested to hear a defense of why Google thinks it's ok to hijack browser functionality, and deprive people of something useful.

iBall said...

Quote "I sounded harsh in earlier posts, please excuse that as a view into my passion for Google and user rights, two things that are very important to me and close to my heart."Suggesting that the people who make the internet possible, the webmasters, who pay for the space, bandwidth etc. without whom the user would have very little to search for, have no rights?

That I find disturbing.

Chris DiBona said...

Hi All,

Obviously people aren't reading my previous posts on this. I've said before that I know that publishers have rights, but the people who say that users have no right to change a web page simply don't understand the foundations of intellectual property. I suggest you do more reading before commenting. The internet is a mess for intellectual property because the question of who -owns- a page isn't clear once a user recieves it.

You might think it is clear, but it isn't. That said, as I've said before if people could actually read first, publishers do have rights. Even statements that you think make sense like "What belongs to a person belongs to a person." makes me think you've never really tried to understand why fair use is important to society.

So instead of getting in a huff, why don't you try to explain how a feature like this could be respectful of publishers. Even if your answer is that it never should exist, it'd be better than all the posturing, which I'm getting very tired of taking part in.

I've heard a lot of good suggestions, and I know that my employer has too. Little google balls next to the link, meta tags, robots.txt language, etc.. I personally like the little balls, it's neater than a simple link and it's pretty clear.

Nicky said...

I think the main issue here is that people dont want to loose business by having links to their competitors on their websites. That much is clear.

If Google want to improve the users search experience, why must they create links to pages where a product is sold? Why not create links to sites which just give information about a product or whatever it is a user is interested in? If Google want to link ISBN numbers, dont link to Amazon, link to a library with information about that book. That was be fairer for the publisher as well as improving the users search experience and would make much more sense.

Also, why not create the link so the page opens up in a new window rather than taking the user away from the initial webpage?

No one has real problems with users changing the format of a page for "visability" but it's just the issue of loosing a sale because a third party has placed a link on a page to a competitors site and not offering any control over to the webmaster as to whether or not they would like this to happen.

That my opinion anyway.

PhilC said...

I'm sorry that you are getting tired of this discussion, Chris, but you did start it and you did invite people to join in.

I notice that you didn't address my point that the autolink button breaks the browser's functionality. Do I take it as meaning that there is no defense for it?

About "fair use":-
I haven't read all the legal stuff, but I've seen it crop up enough to have got the general idea, and nowhere have I seen anything about changing the content of a publication. "Fair use" is about reproducing parts of a publication - not changing them.

You say that it is a legal grey area as to who owns the page once it is loaded into a browser. So you are saying that Google doesn't know if it's legal to change the content of a page once it is in the browser, and, therefore, you may be providing people with the means to break the law. Have I understood you correctly?

PhilC said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris DiBona said...

I'm not saying anything for google, but for me. Pay attention to that, otherwise, I won't even bother answering. I'll post more later.

PhilC said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.