Google's AutoLink

Cory Doctorow, Robert Scoble & Marty Schwimmer

Sound Policy with Denise Howell
48 minutes, 22mb, recorded 2005-03-09
It could be just another convenience for Web surfers. Need directions to a location when only the address is mentioned? Want to shop for a book when the page only lists the ISBN number? According to Google, the 3 Beta of its Toolbar seeks to save you time and mouse clicks: "[C]licking the Toolbar's AutoLink button will automatically create a link to an online map (US addresses only)[.] AutoLink can also link package tracking numbers to delivery status, VIN numbers (US) to vehicle history, and publication ISBN numbers to listings."

But those who have been watching the Web long enough to remember see a resemblance between AutoLink and Microsoft's Smart Tags feature, an unpopular link-adding "enhancement" to Internet Explorer that never made it out of the starting gate. Many wonder too whether AutoLink demonstrates a shift in Google's "don't be evil" approach toward making search profitable. Does AutoLink do enough to make it clear to users which links were put there by the Web page author and which were added? Could AutoLink or something like it alter the meaning and intent of the original page? Don't Web authors have the right to have their work distributed as written? Don't Web users have the right to view material in their browser however they'd like, and can't developers make tools that help this process?

The debut show of the Sound Policy series takes on these questions and more, as Denise Howell talks with Cory Doctorow, Robert Scoble, and Martin Schwimmer about what AutoLink and tools like it mean for the future of the Web. Recommended additional reading:

Cory Doctorow is European Affairs Coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (, a member-supported nonprofit group that works to uphold civil liberties values in technology law, policy and standards. He represents EFF's interests at various standards bodies and consortia, and at the United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organization. Doctorow is also a prolific writer who appears on the mastheads at Wired, Make and Popular Science Magazines, and whose science fiction novels have won the Campbell, Sunburst and Locus Awards and whose novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a finalist for this year's Nebula Award. He is the co-editor of the popular weblog Boing Boing. Born in Canada, he now lives in London, England. His most recent novel is Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, simultaneously released in hardcover by Tor Books and as a free Creative Commons licensed download online.

Robert Scoble is Microsoft's best known blogger, with over 3.5 million visitors to his main blogsite annually. By day, he helps run Microsoft's Channel 9 website and can be seen with his camcorder taping interviews and getting people inside looks at Microsoft's people and technology. He started blogging in 2000, when he helped plan the CNET Live conferences, and two speakers, Dave Winer and Dori Smith, encouraged him to start a blog of his own. Within a few weeks, he was invited to Steve Wozniak's Super Bowl party. He is a former marketing director for UserLand Software, a developer and marketer of blogging and knowledge management software. He was a sales support manager at NEC, where he answered phones and email for the mobile devices division learning the value of customer relationships. Earlier, as an editor for Fawcett Technical Publications, he helped plan the VSLive and CNET Live conferences. In high school, he learned the basics of word-of-mouth retailing while working behind the counter of a San Jose, CA camera store.

Martin Schwimmer is the founder of Schwimmer Mitchell, a law firm in Westchester, New York, representing plaintiffs and defendants in U.S. and international copyright, trademark and domain name matters. He started the popular Trademark Blog, one of the first specialized law blogs, and certainly the one with the most pictures. He writes and speaks frequently on the topic of "brand as navigator", relating to the use of trademarks on the Internet.

This program is part of the Sound Policy series featuring Denise Howell.

This free podcast is from our Sound Policy with Denise Howell series.