Friday, February 25, 2005

Blogging and AutoLink

I enjoy writing and reading blogs. However, I have noticed a trend, where the mainstream media relies far too much on the words of a few bloggers. I use the example of the AutoLink feature in the beta version of Google Toolbar. AutoLink is a feature that enables a user to create a link for addresses or VIN, ISBN and tracking numbers found on a web page. A blogger wrote about the evils of AutoLink. Said blogger was "interviewed" by the amateur journalists over at C|net news. All hell broke after that. If you read the posts about AutoLink feature, you would likely come to the conclusion that it automatically changes your content and creates lots of new links on your web page. People jumped on the "This an evil feature, Google must be stopped" bandwagon. The hackers already have a script to stop this "evil" feature dead in it's tracks. Hyperbole has become more important than facts.

Since I use Firefox at home, I downloaded the beta Toolbar at work (btw, no one forced me to download it). The AutoLink feature is disabled by default. Enabling does absolutely nothing. The user has to click on the AutoLink button in order for AutoLink to look for specific items and create links. The original content is not always changed. All links created by AutoLink appear in a drop down menu beside the AutoLink button. Some links may appear on the page (though a check of the source code will reveal no changes). That is the "evil" AutoLink in a nutshell. It does not automatically create links - the user has to initiate the process. It does "plaster" a page with links - AutoLink looks for very specific code. Currently, AutoLink gives the user three choices for map sites (Google, Mapquest and Yahoo). I suspect that the final version will give the user further control over which website to visit for ISBN, VIN or tracking numbers.

I think AutoLink is a great user initiated feature. I found it useful to be able to view a map for an address without having to cut and paste it the address into a map website. The MapIt! extension for Firefox enables the user to view a map for an address embedded in a web page. According to the anti-AutoLink lobby, MapIt is okay because it does not alter the content. I take issue with that stance. Does this lobby also oppose adblockers, web sites that translate web pages or browsers that enable users to override fonts, colors and/or style sheets? How about if I came up with a program that removes swear words from a web page? Is that not changing content? Based what I have read, some anti-AutoLink are okay with these things, because they are beneficial. Well, I find AutoLink beneficial - why should someone else restrict my ability to use AutoLink?

All that I ask for, is that mainstream media and, bloggers for that matter, perform some due diligence and fact checking before posting an article (or rant) on some topic or product. It will be a service to everyone.

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