Social Media

Search Engine antics

Another couple of tech issues appeared several times in my overworked aggregator: Google’s AutoLink and Yahoo’s API.

As soon as I read about the Yahoo API, I knew I wanted to try it out with the new site. If you look at the bottom of the sidebar, you’ll see several links that use the API to pull back search data and then format it within the existing site look. I plan on changing the topic of each search whenever a new and interesting one comes to mind, but for now, you can see the results for searching on orchids among images; about Social Security in the news; check out what’s happening with tagback in the web; and for all of my political friends, a whole mess’a Jon Stewart videos.

This capability will be built into Wordform as part of the new metadata functionality. It’s not major tech, but it’s fun.

What’s also been fun is reading all the different reactions to Google’s AutoLink. Dave Winer doesn’t like it:

The AutoLink feature is the first step down a treacherous slope, that could spell the end of the Web as a publishing environment with integrity, and an environment where commerce can take place.

Cory Doctorow loves it, though I think his analogy comparing AutoLink to a ‘beloved butler’ is a stretch. My idea of a beloved butler is someone who keeps my house clean, draws my bath after a hike, and massages my feet when I’m tired. AutoLink pales, badly, in comparison. However, Tim Bray thinks it’s evil:

Before, the Web, publishing was about words and pictures. Now it’s about words and pictures and links. I’m OK with reformatting and aggregating and all sorts of other things, but I don’t want downstream software fucking with my words. Or my pictures. Or my links. A lot of us feel this way.

Robert Scoble agrees with Tim and Dave Winer, writing:

I believe that anything that changes the linking behavior of the Web is evil. Anything that changes my content is evil. Particularly anything that messes with the integrity of the link system.

One word for you, Robert: Nofollow. This little doohickey, which you love so much is going to change the linking behavior of the Web faster than toolbar option that only works in IE, and only when the reader clicks a button, and only if you have an ISBN, address, or other obscure piece of data embedded in your page that isn’t currently already linked. Still, as Phil Ringnalda points out in facetious response to another weblogger in a fascinating comment thread, you can’t trust them sneaky readers:

I can’t trust my readers (an unsavory lot, though I love them dearly) to understand the sacred nature of your every word (some of them *gasp* will even copy text and paste it elsewhere!), so I removed your link. Let me know when you are providing your “web”log as either a signed PDF or one large image, so that they may be trusted to behave according to your anti-web rules, and I’ll put it back.

Hey Phil, don’t remove the link: just add “nofollow” to it. (And sorry that I, um, copied and pasted your text here, which is ‘elsewhere’..but it was my evil twin’s fault! I though she was gone for good, but she hitched a ride back with me from Florida, where she was working as a Mary Poppin’s Disney Character; working that is, until she hit some kid over the head with her umbrella when he whined about wanting to see Goofy, instead.)

One of the better ‘anti-AutoLink’ writeups was provided by Paul Boutin at Slate, who wrote:

I don’t think Google is evil for naively launching this feature. I do think they’ll be an accessory to evil if their tool prompts Yahoo!, Microsoft, or my ISP to start handing out similar software that’s a little more aggressive about stuffing in the links. Lots of companies have a different definition of “evil” than the Google guys—leaving money on the table is the ultimate sin.

If for no other reason, Google should yank AutoLink because it’s a poorly designed, oddly un-Googlish feature for a company that made its name on unobtrusiveness and unambiguous results. Most of all, it’s unsavvy. Google’s clever reinvention of Web ads won instant praise from both surfers and advertisers. AutoLink makes me wince. There’s got to be a better way to present map and book links than clumsily editing someone else’s HTML.

A good argument, particularly in comparison with Google’s other efforts: it is an un-Googlish form of technology–except for the fact that AutoLink is about a link, and there’s nothing more Googly than a link. In addition, if we measure every new technology against a possible evil abuse by other parties at some future time, we should have stopped email, cold, and told Tim Berners-Lee he could keep this new Web thing he’s promoting. And let’s burn Dave Winer in effigy for hooking us all on weblogs; my mama always told me to beware the pusher man.

What surprised me about this entire conversation is that people like Winer and Scoble are deathly against AutoLink, yet they push webloggers to publish their entire posts to their syndication feeds; where they can be pulled and massaged and combined with who knows what by any Tom, Dick, or Harry who comes along. I once had my writing appear in a published syndication feed at another weblogger’s site, surrounded by X-rated material, which changes the context of my writing a whole lot more than someone adding a link to a map based on an address.

And we’re talking about a toolbar that only works in Internet Explorer, the browser that’s almost guaranteed to take your carefully designed web page and muck it up so that it’s barely legible; leaving people who use it to view your site to think that you’re the worst ever page designer. True, it doesn’t do anything with your links. Frankly, though, on balance, if we’re that worried about our pages, I think we should keep the AutoLink and throw out the browser.

Now, if Google thinks about implementing a form of Hailstorm, I’ll bunny thump the ground with warnings of dire deeds and nefarious doings; but I give AutoLink a “mildly interesting” at best, and a “who cares” at worst.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email