Like many others, I had written off Dave Winer’s recent obsession with the new Google toolbar. That was until I actually downloaded and installed the thing, and realised – oh my god! There are some really important points he’s raised, and everyone needs to hear them right now!
- “The issue for authors and publishers is whether readers know they’re reading text that’s been modified.” And it’s so ambiguous! Admittedly, in order for the web page to be altered by the Google toolbar, an “AutoLink” button needs to be pressed every time (it doesn’t do it automatically), and the first time you press it this pop-up window appears which explains everything. Personally, I don’t think that’s nearly enough! A large claxon should sound, the screen should flash, and the user should get a phone call from a Google employee explaining the incredibly ambiguous and possibly-accidental button press. After all, the user might not realise that they had altered the content of the page if they were incredibly forgetful or stupid.
- “What happens when Google isn’t satisfied to add links to our sites, suppose they were to change the actual words? I haven’t heard Google say they would never do that, have you?” This is an incredibly good point! Just because the Google Toolbar does something that is only helpful at the moment, there’s nothing stopping them from making a later version do it automatically. They could also redirect all links on a page to go through Google. They could leverage their total domination of the search-engine market to provide completely false information about how big Larry Page’s penis is. And then, they could use all the cash from their recent IPO to build an army of attack robots and mount an invasion of Belgium. The fact that in the previous seven years of market dominance they have done nothing that would even approach this kind of non-consensual content modification has no bearing on the argument! Sure, it would utterly destroy their credibility and popularity and decimate their userbase, but such a move from Google’s decision makers would be quite possible if they were incredibly forgetful or stupid.
- “It invites Microsoft, with it’s [sic] virtual monopoly in browser [sic], to do the same, to the detriment of the market, and even Google itself.” Gaah, Dave, as blindingly insightful as you are, I wish you hadn’t said that out loud! I bet that the noise has attracted the IE7 team and they’re now thinking, “Whoah, he’s right! We control the horizontal and the vertical too! Why can’t we just use our awesome monopoly power to, say, erase all mention of “Linux” (spit!) from the web?” Sure, they could have thought of this from the very beginning, but not if they were incredibly forgetful or stupid.
- “At minimum it should provide an opt-out as described above, but we really want AutoLink to be opt-in.” Dave speaks for all of us web creators when he says that the content of a web page should only be viewed in exactly the way its author intended, even if the user (by pressing the AutoLink button) requests otherwise. Even though the earliest web browsers included such content-altering features as “Turn Off Image Downloading”, and that modern screen-reading browsers have to change the way text is rendered to disabled users, not to mention the approximately 10 billion other ways in which dynamic content alteration has become a vital part of web usage, (such as Google Cache search) all this behaviour is clearly wrong. After all, if a web author had to specifically opt-in to have their web page altered for any of the above purposes, the web would be much, much more valuable and have better integrity. It’s worth disagreeing with those who decreed that the specific rendering of a web page should be ultimately left to the end user’s preferences – such as the entire W3C, for example – because they might not have thought of these potential violations if they were incredibly forgetful or stupid.
So, there you go, folks! I’m not the only one who feels this way: hundreds of others agree! And the only way they could all be wrong is… um… nope, can’t think of anything.