[thelist] More Smart Tags

isaac isaac at members.evolt.org
Sun Jun 24 21:29:21 CDT 2001

'There is no doubt that "smart tags" are useful.' Jakob Nielsen.

> Smart tags are pure evil.

If you think smart tags are "pure evil", I'd be interested in your opinion
on the Taliban, or something slightly more serious than Microsoft's
implementation of "implicit linking". I think that you might be
over-reacting slightly.

> I like freedom of thought, I tolerate advertising, I hate pressure sales.

You have the choice to use a browser besides IE6, or to disable its smart
tag feature.

> Smart tags are the equivalent of writing notes in library books, or worse,
> writing notes in books in bookshops, that you don't own, before you buy
> them.

I believe you are incorrect. Smart tags could be more closely likened to
adding notes to your own copy of a book or newspaper. It's happening on your
own screen, on your own computer. These additions can be removed by choice
whenever you'd like. As the owner of a site, you can also specify that you'd
prefer that users didn't add their own (or Microsoft's) notes to your
content. Publishers and authors of printed books do not have this luxury.
They allow the user the choice of a pristine copy, or the ability to add

> I get a book, I like to read it through my own *experience window*.  If I
> want a review I like to know who wrote it.

Don't use IE6, or disable smart tags.
Other users will have the same choice.

> If I wrote a book I'd be livid if every copy sold had anonymous
> notes in it, wouldn't you?

If users preferred the version with additional content, that is their
choice. Not "every copy" will have the added notes.

> I build web sites for a living, the idea of trying to sell a site to a
> commercial customer that can be grafitti'd by an anonymous competitor is
> outrageous.

Add the meta tag to stop smart tags effecting your content.

> Smart Tags stink.
> Bury them now!

Smart tags have a lot of potential. The current implementation is not ideal.

Here are some notes from Jakob Nielsen:

(June 8, 2001) The debate about the "smart tags" in Internet Explorer
overlooks the history of this feature (which automatically adds links to
certain words when displayed in the browser). In hypertext theory, this is
known as implicit links and is quite a useful feature. Long before the Web,
the InterLex system provided links from any word to a dictionary and the
Video Linguist allowed language students to link to translations of words in
foreign-video subtitles. More recently, several browser-add-ons have
provided implicit links on the Web, such as the ability to link from a
company name to a stock quote pulled from a different site or to perform a
query for the term on Google.
There is no doubt that "smart tags" are useful.

Jakob adds that he has two issues with the current implementation. One is
that the squiggly underline is too intrusive; the smart-tagged words should
become visible when the user holds down a modifier key. His other issue is
that, currently, destinations are Microsoft-preferred properties.

The latter should change with time as third-parties add their own smart tags
to the library available to users.

For a while I thought that this implementation would be much improved if
sites had to "opt-in" rather than opt-out. But forcing the "opt-in" removes
power from the users. Users currently have the choice to print web pages -
imagine if sites had to add a meta-tag to opt-in to this feature?

More recent browsers are allowing users to override hardcoded stylesheet
font-sizing. Imagine if this was opt-in also? Tough luck to those who
struggle to read small-type, because some people want to ensure that their
site has tiny text, *no matter what*. Is that an issue of integrity? Some
authors may wish to specify that their text is in a certain font-size
regardless of the preferences of the user.

Smart tags and similar technology allow and will allow users to search their
preferred engine (google has a bookmarklet which does this I believe) by
right-clicking or selecting a word. It will allow non-English speakers to
gradually learn more by linking difficult words to dictionary.com, or
educate newbies by linking technical terms to a site like whatis.com.

Recent unofficial releases from Microsoft suggest that smart tags will be
definitely off by default (they've been enabled in betas for testing
purposes). Users will not be able to override the decision by site owners to
disallow smart tags. Also, the recognisers which place the links to
Microsoft-preferred sites will not be installed by default. When users
choose to enable smart tags, they browse a gallery of recognisers and choose
those that they'd like to use (the MSN recogniser, one provided by
dictionary.com, whatis.com, etc).

One addition which I think would assist their implementation is disclosure
of smart tag ownership. This screenshot of a smart tag in action
(http://www.scripting.com/images/smarttagsByScoble.gif) suggests that the
pop-up is branded with the MSN style, but it could easily be more
distinctive and obvious. ie, "Information provided by Microsoft", or:

	Company News (on MSNBC.com)
	Stock Quote (on someMSstocksite.com)
	Official site (microsoft.com)
	Company Report (on MSN.com)

Is there anything in this approach which you consider distinctly unfair?


triple zero digital | upstairs at 200 the parade, norwood 5067
0414 758 000 | www.triplezero.com.au | isaac at triplezero.com.au

More information about the thelist mailing list