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Vikas Kamat
 Vikas Kamat is a programmer- entrepreneur living in Birmingham AL. This blog is a complex mix of Indian culture, life in southern USA, computer sciences, and sports. Opinions are his own.
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Why AutoLink is Bad Durable Link to this BLOG
My Two Cents on AutoLinks

Many years ago (in 1999), the CEO of EBSCO was pushing very hard for implementing Reference Linking -- basically if you are reading a research paper, you just click on the reference being cited, and then go to that reference, be it a book or another research paper. "Reference Linking would indeed be the holy-grail of content management", I had thought. His vision was as brilliant as it was complicated to engineer.

Then in 2001 Microsoft released SmartTags -- a diluted reference linking, if I may call it so. In my mind it was an obvious abuse of its monopoly and unjust manipulation of somebody's content. Microsoft withdrew this technology after a furor was raised. The issue has now again surfaced due to Google's AutoLink feature.

The underlying question is this -- whether EBSCO does it or Google. Is inserting links modification of content?
Legally, I believe it constitutes modification of content (I hope so, anyway).
Morally, I believe that it is OK, and in some instances indeed welcome to provide these AutoLinks (as in the case of Reference Linking)

In some cases, the end-user might be willing to pay for the AutoLinks (as in case of EBSCO), and in that situation who is violating whom?

Lessons from Manual Linking

For a moment, consider the problem/anguish if linking on the web. Most people will generalize and say "Linking is Good", whereas there are indeed some types of linking that are bad and unwelcome.

Examples of Unwelcome Links

  • Inline image linking (a.k.a. Bandwidth Stealing) -- This is definitely not OK by me.
  • "Google Bombs" --links created with inappropriate text as in PriceLine is a Fraud or Miserable Failure
  • Links to non-public websites encoding passwords and tokens and hence compromising the security of website.
  • HTML Framing -- Some sites like Sulekha link to external sites, but after including a frame header with an advertisement. I feel this is not OK. I allow HTML framing of our contents only if the frame header does not contain an advertisement.

Going to back to my thoughts on AutoLinks, I'd use the similar criteria, whether or not it results in damage to the content creator. It is definitely not OK for a browser vendor or a toolbar vendor to insert hyperlinks -- because the content creator might have deliberately left out links to improve design, to reduce link fatigue (or to make a statement).

It might be OK for vendors to provide external tools (like a popup window or HTML frame) to show these links when they specifically charge a fee for such a service (not sure how it will work).

If we do not agree that AutoLinking is abuse of someone else's content, consider its ramifications. The web hosting companies will want to modify the contents (remember the Geocities banner ?), so will the Internet traffic boosters like Akamai.

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Last Modified: 4/4/2005 7:31:55 PM
Tags: library

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