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news and thoughts on and around the development of the iCite net
by Jay Fienberg

Google AutoLink and relationship

posted: Mar 14, 2005 9:19:18 PM

I haven't used Google's new AutoLink feature and don't like the space taken up by toolbars on my browser anyway, so I'm not coming out with taking sides on whether AutoLink is good or evil. But, based on Danny Ayers post about AutoLink, I wanted to note how I see AutoLink as being part of a larger trend that includes RSS/Atom.

One thing interesting to me in all this is remembering how much folks like being able to change their view of websites to suit their own needs. And, the deep question for website creators is always going to be something like: "how can I stay connected with the folks changing my website?"

Some websites creators may not want to go there: they may want to stay in the "how can I keep folks using my site only as I want it to be used" perspective. And, some sites can probably maintain a relationship with their visitors that includes the expectation that the site visitors do not remix / extract from the site.

But, for most websites, we should expect that they'll be reformatted, extracted from, combined with other sites, and significantly repurposed by any and even all of their visitors. And, AutoLink seems to me to fit into the trend—that this should become commonly expected of and acceptable to website creators.

Now, the Google AutoLink feature may be nice for someone visiting a website, but, in some ways, it inserts Google between that individual and the website's creators. The new connections AutoLink makes between the individual and Google do not continue on to the website (e.g., Google doesn't inform the website creator that the site's visitors would like the ISBNs on the site to link to Amazon).

And, in general, this fits into my question to everyone developing technology or services that take things from one website and does things with them: are you willing and interested to keep the source site(s) in on the relationship with the individual, or are you satisfied simply with gaining that individual's relationship to yourself?

(As a suggestion to Google: how about a new Google API that allows folks to plug in a page URL and see where AutoLink features would be / have been activated on that page, and how many times each has been clicked by a site visitor using AutoLink.)

In relationship terms, is Google AutoLink like some kind of social parasite on website creators and the folks who use their sites? Or, is it like a friend? Or, is it just some impersonal service?

Whether or not there is a clear answer to that question, there is also the question of all the types of relationships one can have with a website—again, some are parasitic, some are like friendships, and some are just impersonal. Can AutoLink adjust to these dynamics, or is it otherwise neutral to them?

Ultimately, AutoLink itself (as it works today) will probably prove to be relatively uninteresting due to its lack of nuance in the midst of all the ways we relate to websites and the information on them. But, developments like AutoLink will keep happening and continue to open up (and introduce other possibilities into) the relationship between a website's contents and the individuals who relate to them.

As a general topic, actually, I have written a bunch about this over the past few months that I'll be posting when I release the iCite net sub project code-named kickitch—which isn't anything like AutoLink, but is part of my own experiment with that deep question I suggested website creators need to be asking themselves.

Also, I just saw Lucas Gonze's hard line on Autolink, which is a good pro-AutoLink argument. And, Ken MacLeod's AutoLink: a hypothetical conversation with a FireFox developer is a humorous must-read.

Update: I just started playing with Mark Pilgrim's Butler script, which remixes Google's pages—imagine something like Wicked Uncle Ernie's AutoLink ;-) See above for my "[things] will keep happening" and getting interesting prediction!

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