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AutoLink Toolbar feature looks like SmartTags
eventus




msg:1102278
 2:17 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

As an online publisher and content provider the AutoLink feature in the new version of the Google toolbar is something that I take serious and direct issue with.

You may recall that MicroSoft tried a similar concept with SmartTags and other companies have released other similar plugins that have come to collectively been called Scumware, Spyware, Adware or Malware.

Gary Price : 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.

I don't want Google, or any other company for that matter, "enhancing" or otherwise modifying the page design, links or content of our pages or other intellectual property without permission and/or compensation to us.

Let's imagine that I sell books online and I list the ISBN number on the pages. AutoLink modifies the ISBN numbers that I list on my ecommerce pages and inserts a link to that books page in Amazon, my competitor... Not Good.

I am sure that this "Feature" has massive commercial appeal and potential for Google. How long will it be before Google starts offering paid partnerships to certain parters to link their data directly from your pages to theirs.

Google may claim this is useful and they will do no evil. How can we be sure? There is much to consider.

How much longer before we just let the web browser rewrite all our websites and pages..

 

LadyLinuX




msg:1102398
 3:22 pm on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)


What's next? Overriding existing money related links on peoples pages!?

The beauty of it is they can accomplish essentially the same task without having to do that - by identifying common alpha-numeric data in the page and using it to create their own links in your page.

Some of the possibilities include highlighting and linking UPC codes, manufacturers' part or model numbers, Swan catalog numbers, commonly identifiable alpha-numeric data found in technical specifications - such as parameters for RAM modules (512MB SODIMM) or other PC specs.

Every time I ask myself the question - "Would Google really do that?" Afterall, the function is currently limited to mapping and ISBN's. While I can't answer in the affirmative, I can't say no either; because if Google's intentions with linking book data were truly altruistic and if they truly wanted to help the user, they'd be linking ISBN's to Library of Congress or libraries with volumes to read online, not a commercial entity.

Tapolyai




msg:1102399
 4:23 pm on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

I go back to what I said before:
Take advantage of the meta tag "MSSmartTagsPreventParsing" & ROBOTS.TXT. The meta tag would allow a quick casual fix, and the ROBOTS.TXT could work for more site wide solutions.
Google must realize there are two groups of people who made them into a success.

The end users and the webmasters.

It is also important to know that webmasters have a direct line to end users, so despite their fewer numbers then users, they hold just as much leverage. Google would be foolish to alienate webmasters.

With that, I ask Google Guy, are there any plans to provide ways to disable Google toolbar features that impact our web sites?

eventus




msg:1102400
 4:28 pm on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

LadyLinuX states:

Every time I ask myself the question - "Would Google really do that?"....

The cold hard reality is that you cannot go be corporate promises in issues like this, and even if you did these promises are not binding on other corporations.

Not so surprising is that the person behind Google's Autolink "enhancement" is non other than Jeff Reynar. He's the guy that was behind MicroSoft's SmartTags. His Personal Webpage [cis.upenn.edu] lists that he is currently a Google project manager. Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion has also confirmed Reynar's role in the Google project.

Reynart's email address at google is jreynar@google.com/ The most productive thing to do would be to write him a brief, polite and well thought out email describing your feelings for or against this technology that he developed.

Reynar's specialty is "recognizing linguistic and conceptual pattern in electronic documents". Most likely for the purposes of identifying them in search algorithms.

Questions arise:

Did Google hire Reynar because of his previous SmartTag work?

What is Google going to do with the AutoLink feature in the future?

Is Google trying to get away with MicroSoft could not?

If Google gets away with this are others like MicroSoft and Yahoo going to try to follow Google's path?

----

Google is not capable of altruism. The moment that that they became a public corporation their only goal is to provide the greatest ROI for their investors and stockholders. All their efforts are to deliver on that goal.

Scarecrow




msg:1102401
 6:23 pm on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

The Google autolink does not override an ISBN that is already linked; the original link prevails.

Even if you aren't already using your ISBN as a link, this behavior can still be used to shield your ISBN from Google's toolbar without changing the appearance of your page. Turn your plain-text ISBN into a link that does nothing:

<A NAME="">0-14-004007-2</A>

It won't even be underlined or in blue on your page -- it will look the same as it used to. Google's toolbar will highlight it if you click on "Show Book Info" because it still sees this as an ISBN. But nothing at all happens if you click on Google's highlighted ISBN. It won't go to Google to get redirected to Amazon. It will seem to the toolbar user that Google's feature is broken -- chuckle, chuckle.

The same technique works for addresses to prevent Google from showing a map. It's okay to have a <BR> inside the anchor text on an address.

grelmar




msg:1102402
 1:44 am on Feb 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

Some of my pages are already littered with Google defeating tags to prevent AdSense from displaying horribly mis-targeted ads.

Am I now going to go through and start using Google defeating tags to beat AutoLinks?

Where does it stop? Am I going to end up with half my page-weight devoted to tags to defeat search engine behaviour?

It gives me a headache. It really does. I've gone to lengths to make my pages easily readable by the engines.

Are we now heading into an era where we all devote as much time to confusing the SE's as we currently do to to making our pages easily read and indexed?

I'm starting to wonder if I should go see MM's hatmaker, or just say to heck with it and go out and buy a big Black Stetson.

plumsauce




msg:1102403
 2:28 am on Feb 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

Reynar's specialty is "recognizing linguistic and conceptual pattern in electronic documents". Most likely for the purposes of identifying them in search algorithms.

so how come the organics stink?

Some of my pages are already littered with Google defeating tags to prevent AdSense from displaying horribly mis-targeted ads.
Am I now going to go through and start using Google defeating tags to beat AutoLinks?

Where does it stop? Am I going to end up with half my page-weight devoted to tags to defeat search engine behaviour?

.htaccess is your friend :)

MultiMan




msg:1102404
 1:43 pm on Feb 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

grelmar,

You've only just begun to experience it. Try watching G$ do that to you for a year and a half -- and you spend volumes of work trying to fix it to no avail. When your time and hard, hard work efforts are deliberately wasted for that length of time, it becomes clear that doing any more is only a waste of time.

Any SE that deliberately makes it impossible for an honest authority website to be found in natural SERPs, and then also allows policies which make even paying to be found increasibly difficult if not impossible, ceases to be a valid SE. They're not trying to provide SE products, they're after money and mind control (through information control). A SE bridges authority websites to users, but G$ wants to control what users get to see, and to squeeze out every dollar possible to be made, whether earned, hijacked, or stolen.

Then that same former-SE which forces you to pay to be found on their bandwidth's web-pages says they now plan to hijack and steal your bandwidth's web-pages to use those hijacked bandwidth's web-pages as a platform to make the former-SE money? Forget it. It just can't get any more evil than that -- although G$ will likely find a way, given how they seem to reveal new evils on an almost daily basis these days.

And with all that, when you show the truth of every newly-arriving act of evil after evil by G$, you then have to listen to unthinking brainwashed G$ cultists mindlessly malign you of supposedly wearing a "tinfoil hat" and of "making a conspiracy theory." They just want to protect their obviously wicked cult by using their doublespeak and clearly false accusations.

No matter. You can even feel sorry for them because they've given up their free minds to the G$ mind control cult. They're the ones losing, having lost their minds.

Truth is the truth and facts are the facts -- no matter how many G$ cultists try to find a way to attempt to say otherwise and try to discredit you for telling the truth and for showing the facts. They have given up control over their minds to G$.

We can only hope that more will break free from the cult mind control upon such obviously brainwashed minds. Indubitably, these days, G$ can "do only evil."

So, if you're starting to think you need a "tin hat," grelmar, I do hope fr you that you may just be on your way to breaking free, realizing that there is no such hat after all. The truth is the truth without such a thing -- and the "tin hat" notion is only a G$ cult false accusation to try to scare you away from seeing the truth!

communitynews




msg:1102405
 9:45 pm on Feb 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'm sure it's just a matter of time before a company like Barnes and Noble sues Google

Press reports indicate that Barnes and Noble is "talking to Google". I assume that if Google did something for them they'd shut up. Same thing with lawsuits, often they are settled. A ruling is needed on this. Google will see how loud and long complaints continue. If it dies off they'll leave it in and probably expand it little by little.

buckworks




msg:1102406
 11:26 pm on Feb 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

If it dies off they'll leave it in

Affiliate (and merchant) fatigue is scumware's best friend.

sun818




msg:1102407
 11:32 pm on Feb 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

> Barnes & Noble

If you're referring to this piece, it seems more like copy and paste of the discussion here plus a quote from an analyst to give "legitimacy". I hate lazy journalism - the article is not even accurate:

[business.timesonline.co.uk...]

grelmar




msg:1102408
 3:38 am on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

Try this for fun:

Type "Google Toolbar" into the search bar in Google, Yahoo, and MSN, and do a news search on all 3 engines.

Yahoo and MSN - Nothin' bud bad news for the G

G search - about a 50/50 split. Half the results are of the "G is Evil" variety, the other half are ambivalent to positive news articles about the new toolbar.

The difference in results MUST be because of G's much larger database... right? ;)

addicted44




msg:1102409
 5:11 am on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

I guess we all can agree that since a user has to download the toolbar, enable autolink, and then alcick a button everytime he uses it, google is not tricking the end user (unlike, from what i hear, smart tags, which turned on smart tags by default on a default browser that is integrated into the OS.). The only issue might be violation of the webmaster's rights.

Certainly webmasters are being overprotective and greedy. The web is designed to be democratic allowing the user to pursue it the way he wants. I dont believe the webmaster should be allowed to have absolute control over his website. Let me explain the precedent that gives rise to this belief of mine.

The last few years all teh talk has been about how the Web has b een replacing the desktop. How about comparing A website with your OS. Both are platforms which allow you, the user, to perform certain operations. If microsoft insists that all media files be viewed only using Windows media player, or all websites be visited only on IE, they will be slapped with lawsuits. Similarly, why should a website decide where I buy a book I read about on that website? I can currently copy the ISBN no. of the book, search on google and go and buy it from amazon. Right now all the google toolbar does is automates that process. I agree they should not limit the choices to Amazon...but here is where the biggest flaw in all teh newsreports about the toolbar come in. Google has not launched it. It is still in BETA...They have said that they shall be adding more options for boko searches in the future. In fact, their map search option gives the user at least 2 other competing websites as choices.

But still, I hope google gives webmasters an option to disallow autolink, to avoid all the abuses that are being hurled at it. I am sure if enough people bring this option to their notice, they will implement it. I sincerely think that not many have thought of this option, at least no one talks about it.

ThatAdamGuy




msg:1102410
 5:23 am on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

Ah, Addicted, a breath of fresh air :)

Indeed, I think if Google does two things, 99.99% of net folks will be happy:
1) Differentiate the autolinks in color or design so they don't look like regular links.
2) Enable Webmasters to opt-out via a meta tag.

Anyway, I completely agree with you about how it's not right for us Webmasters to get too greedy and controlling. With Google's AdSense program, we've heard more and more now: "Content is King." Over time, I hope to hear more "The viewer is the King" :)

sun818




msg:1102411
 6:09 am on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

I think a lot of the views expressed in this thread has come from affiliate marketers which gives this thread skewed perspective. We've only seen an opinion or two defending the user perspective.

Imaster




msg:1102412
 6:45 am on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

- Where do you draw the line?

- Where do they stop adding features and linking more stuff directly via autolinks? Today, its maps and ISBN numbers, tommorow, it can be anything and everything (what about ads)

- Just bcoz they have kept it "off" by default this time, what tells you they will never keep it "on" by default in the next toolbar update?

- More importantly, is it just the option of keeping it on/off by default, the main criteria for considering whether it is "less evil" than smarttags?

- What stops other companies to integrate such features in their toolbars and send traffic and make money out of the content of publishers?

This is just the tip of the iceberg, this whole thing can open a big can of worms....

MultiMan




msg:1102413
 11:15 am on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

The web is designed to be democratic

When someone else can interfere and modify with what you say (as with a TB when surfing on your wesbsite), there is no free speech. When there is no free speech, there is no "democratic web."

(Don't forget or neglect to remember that it is G$ alone who is "deciding" what the changes on your web-site are and to whom those AutoLinks go when the TB is used.)

This is not about the user, this is about G$ denying the very essence of freedom on the web.

It's bad enough that G$ search is no longer a valid bridge of free speech between speakers and users, as G$ now decides who the user gets to hear regardless of authority -- due to G$'s purposely now-useless natural SERPs. For true authority sites now, only the "paid speech" of those who can (barely) afford to pay to be heard can get to be found in G$ now (via AW). But now it gets even worse with this TB, as G$ seeks to even claim the "right" to change the very words of a webmaster's supposed-to-be free speech.

This TB is the very enemy of free speech and any notion of a "democratic web."

Indeed, while some may not have realized it, to even suggest that webmasters are the ones being "greedy" in this is to demonstrate that the one saying that is actually preaching communism, opposing free speech and a "democratic web."

Think, folks, think!

grelmar




msg:1102414
 1:56 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

First off, I am NOT an affiliate marketer. My sites (or the one's I develop) fall under the following categories:

Content Based, Entertainment (low to no profit)

Content Based, Informative (Again, low to no profit - the biggest one I'm working on right now is for an NGO)

Small/Medium Business, using the web as uspllemental marketing (as opposed to direct sales) - no direct revenue whatever.

For these sites, the content is always unique, and the purpose is NOT to drive the suyrfer to an affiliate ad. The affilliate ads are there as a means of defraying the cost of running the site. On the small business sites, there are no ads whatever.

In all three of these circumstances, auto-linking is directly harmful to the overal integrity of the sites. Why? Because it invariably commercializes them in ways the sites were never intended to be commercialized. It drives traffic to other commercial entities that the sites have no affiliation with, providing information that simply isn't relevant to the user.

Now, given the current iteration of the TB, the effect is mostly minimal. Users would be unlikely to use the toolbar in the context of these sites, except perhaps for a portion of the Small Business (local realtor sites), that have address listings. The map may, or may not, be usefull for the surfer (at present: not useful, as they are references to addresses outsid the US, and are thereby not currently supported by the TB). Even so, it takes traffic away for the site, and if you've been doing this for any length of time, you realize how hard it is to get that traffic in the first place, and once you have it, how hard it is to keep that traffic.

For the content sites, the TB just provides another distraction without providing anything of particular relevance or usefullness.

As it stands right now, my sites aren't going to be much damaged by the TB.

The problem lay in the "This is only the first step..." syndrome. Google is a Big Company, and like all Big Companies, their loyalty lies first and foremost with their shareholders. As time goes on, their shareholders will demand that they access every source of revenue at their disposal. Thinking otherwise is naiive. With auto-linking, there is a tremendous, and obvious, potential source of revenue in marketing an "AutoLink Affilliate" program. Wnat to drive traffic to your site? Pays the G 5cents to 5$/click, and we'll highligh the keyword phrase of your choice, every time tsomeon clicks the "auto-link" button.

And then I have SERIOUS problems. Because if I'm running a non profit site, with no commercial aspirations, I certainly don't want someone else commercializing my site and making money off of it.

If you think that the TB will stay as is (which is already pushing the invasiveness boundary), and you think that G will never try and commercialize the feature, then fine. You deserve it when you and your sites get plowed out of existing by the rolling thunder potential of thsi TB.

I don't believe their going to leave the functionality of the TB as is, I think they'll continue to seek "suitable terms" for autolinking as time goes on. I also don't doubt for a second that they're going to try and commercialize it at some point in the future. That the nature of a publicly traded company. Sooner or later, they turn everything at their disposal to revenue generation.

So, I'm going to fight it.

I'm going to fight it by trying to find code to defeat the TB from within my pages.

And I'm going to fight it by expressing my concerns as rationally as possible in a forum where I know the company in question reads the information.

And I'm also going to fight it by trying to get in touch with media outlets, and explaining to them the significance of what the TB is doing. And seeing as virtually every newspaper, and every TV station has an online presence, I don't doubt taht they'll be able to understand the significance of the issue.

Clark




msg:1102415
 2:20 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'm not an affiliate marketer either and I hate it. Google used to send ME traffic for free. Now I pay for it. That's not good enough? Now they want MY traffic...for free?

eventus




msg:1102416
 2:38 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

Google used to send ME traffic for free. Now I pay for it. That's not good enough? Now they want MY traffic...for free?

Yes that pretty much sums up what I believe are Google's long term objectives.

-----

I am wondering if Google has realy though the question of "web page modification" through... or WORSE I worry that Google HAS thought this issue through!

This is a 'Bet The Farm' decision that Google has made launching AutoLink web page modification and Google could get into real trouble and become the next NetScape.

I wouldn't hesitate for one second to blacklist Google's IP ranges and deny them any and all access.

Also consider this ....If Google succeeds in quashing oposition to this it opens this whole area up to Microsoft rerelease SmartTags.

Clark




msg:1102417
 2:44 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

Google was so much smarter in how they handled this than Microsoft. If they are able to make this opt-in and useful, it will become popular no matter how much webmasters complain. MS screwed up because they tried to force on the web a default w/o opt-in. They thought they were powerful enough to get away with it.

I'm so mad about this because I believe G can get away with it. As a beta, it shows you the potential. The people who are still defending this aren't foreseeing the implications and may change their mind when it comes out of beta and gets enhanced.

Most people here love the adblock feature of firefox unless it's used to block their adsense or paid ads. But we all know it isn't going to go away. This is the same concept.

max_mm




msg:1102418
 2:59 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

If they are able to make this opt-in and useful

No opt-in or opt-out option for webmasters I’m afraid.

For a simple reason: it would look to “Joe surfer” like the TB is broken if the autolink feature works on some websites and not on others.....unless the TB pops a message notifying Joe surfer that this feature doe’s not work on all web sites, or the autolink button dim on opt-out sites (which i suspect is not going to be the case).

So either Google will pass on this feature all together OR it is here to stay and take the heat.....don't expect opt-in/opt-out.

My 2 cents...

[edited by: max_mm at 3:04 pm (utc) on Feb. 22, 2005]

Clark




msg:1102419
 3:03 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

I meant opt-in for the TB user not the webmaster. If they allow the webmaster to opt-out then I'll be ok with the thing. But if they make it work the same way adblock works, they will probably get away with it. If they want to avoid a backlash with webmasters, they should create an opt-out for the webmaster which most webmasters won't bother deploying.

Chndru




msg:1102420
 3:16 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

I wonder how many actually installed Google Toolbar and tried it before jumping all over.

There are two key differences over SmartTags.

1. SmartTags was for Windows OS. Not just for IE. It was planned to be integrated with Office, Explorer etc.

2. It was default and built-in with OS. Unlike, Google Toolbar, which you download and install.

Also see: [news.bbc.co.uk...]

figment88




msg:1102421
 4:23 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

I do not understand why some people keep saying if Google allows webmasters to opt-out everyone will be o.k. with this.

I certainly will not be ok with an opt-out mechanism. Other than specific provisions such as fair-use, copyright is an opt-in world. I will only be ok with Google modifying my webpages if I opt-in to them doing so.

Similarly, I do not think they should
1) spider & index my websites without an allow statement in my robot.txt

2) archive my old usenet posts and show ads on them without my explicit permission

3) scan my email messages to people with gmail accounts for the purposes of inserting ads without my explicit permission

newkid2005




msg:1102422
 10:08 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

Yawn...this is old news.

We all know (should know) what G$ is up to since August 2003.

Adsense Related Search:
[webmasterworld.com...]

and

Opera & Adsense:
[webmasterworld.com...]

Keep on dreaming...

skipfactor




msg:1102423
 10:29 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

>>Google used to send ME traffic for free. Now I pay for it. That's not good enough? Now they want MY traffic...for free?

The bang out of AdWords bucks will be getting smaller. I swear those "BIGGIE" fries' portions are shrinking too.

ThatAdamGuy




msg:1102424
 6:26 am on Feb 23, 2005 (gmt 0)

Earlier in this thread, at least one person had suggested that former Microsoftie Jeff Reynar -- who had worked on MS Smart Tags -- was working on the autolink feature at his new Google post.

Prominent (and, IMHO, generally trustworthy) blogger and Microsoftie Robert Scoble has learned and just reported that Jeff is *NOT* involved with the autolinking feature.

The news is too late for me; I already had e-mailed suggestions to Jeff, who I now fear may have gotten inundated from such types of mail. I'm writing this entry here now, then, to make sure others know to leave Jeff alone :)

bears5122




msg:1102425
 4:29 am on Feb 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'd like to pose this questions....

Why couldn't Microsoft build this same feature into their toolbar? Then when searches on Google are done, their own PPC ads will be featured above the Google ones.

Seems to me that would be just as fair as what Google is doing.

communitynews




msg:1102426
 7:48 pm on Feb 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

Microsoft could allow users to decide to take ads from Microsoft when looking at both Google.com and all AdSense properties too. Afterall, it might be something that users want. What the authors want doesn't seem to matter that much (anymore?).

MultiMan




msg:1102427
 6:41 pm on Feb 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

Interesting URL. I haven't seen that one before. It's good to see that at least some folks are actually working pro-actively to address this G$-thievery problem.
(It also startles me that no one is doing such pro-active ideas here at WebmasterWorld. Has Brett's site really become the unapologetic G$ cult after all? I hope not.)

I also am surprised that we have not yet seen the URL posted for giving G$ feedback about this extremely "do only evil" idea -- or, at least, I have not seen it posted.

So, here it is.

[google.com...]

Tell G$ what you think!

communitynews




msg:1102428
 5:38 pm on Feb 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

MultiMan, many thanks for the link and keeping this thread alive.

I believe the answer to this is not programming that allows publishers to opt out.

I'll confess to being a Google cultist on some level but this toolbar issue has changed all that. Continuous pressure on Google to remove the feature or making it opt-in is what is needed. If Google wants to require AdSense publishers to opt-in or drop out of AdSense that is OK with me. Facilitating the changing of publisher content without permission with or without a click is not acceptable for any reason.

I had hoped that this was simply an overly aggressive department and a lack of controls but if that were the case it would have been withdrawn by now (I think).

Nothing less than a change as I've described AND a full apology to publishers with a promise not to modify content in the future will return me to my prior "Google cultist on some level" state.

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