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Smart Tags Dumb Idea

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Alan Herrell

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User since: 30 Aug 1999

Articles written: 13

The quest for control of presentation by designers has taken many turns. From the first graphical browsers in 1994[1] to the sophisticated tools for creating webpages and managing content available today , designers have used the web to display the fruits of their labors.

Over the next few years the web developed and more websites arrived, from individuals, business and governments, browsers became more complex and began the bloody trail of tears known as the Browser Wars.

Creating two sets of pages for a single site, just to get them to display close to each other, while allowing creativity in imagery and navigation was taking a toll on designers, and creating an antagonistic atmosphere for companies to adopt the web as a part of their business goals primarily due to cost, complexity of browser workarounds, and deployment time.

In 1998 a group of designers formed the Web Standards Project[2] to bring some sanity to the creation of websites and to adopt the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)[3] HTML Markup Language Recommendations as 'Standards' to create websites. The WaSP called on the Browser Makers to build browsers to follow these standards, as the cost of developing websites for just the two major players, Netscape and Internet Explorer was adding up to 25% to the cost of website development.

Because of the economic writing on the wall, the browsers began to improve. They began to release products that began to conform with the 'Standards'. They are not there yet, but exciting things are anticipated.

With the growth of the web has come the enfranchisement of individuals and groups of all persuasions, beliefs and backgrounds. The web is a truly democratic medium for information, viewpoints and entertainment. A few bucks a month for a connection, a computer, free tools and if you are new to the web and need help, we have it in droves, from HTML markup to Flash.

With this freedom has come a few bumps, a few billion dollars down various ratholes[4] and the fight for control of the web continues in courtrooms, boardrooms and by designers [5] , independant content producers [6] and pixel mechanics like me around the world.

In our hunger to publish, we have grasped at every opportunity to extend the boundaries of the possible. Designers have been exploring the boundaries of design and presentation since the first animated .gif was displayed. We have twisted the code, we have created navigation and information displays of incredible beauty and abysmal nightmares.

Many of us believe in the promise of the web outlined in the Wasp Mission Statement;

We recognize the necessity of innovation in a fast-paced market. However, basic support of existing W3C standards has been sacrificed in the name of such innovation, needlessly fragmenting the Web and helping no one.

Our goal is to support these core standards and encourage browser makers to do the same, thereby ensuring simple, affordable access to Web technologies for all.

There is a new technology that threatens the web.
Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6.0

IE 6.0 correctly implements the CSS Box Model. Hooray! There is a price you will pay for this. Internet Explorer 6.0 is incorporating a new 'feature' called Smart Tags. According to Microsoft this is an 'enhancement' for your browser experience.[7]

"Smart tags are a new feature in Microsoft ® Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft Outlook® 2002 (when Word is enabled as your e-mail editor), and Microsoft Internet Explorer (when Microsoft Office XP or one of the standalone applications mentioned above is installed on your computer) that allows text to be labeled with contextual information while users type."

This so-called contextual information are actually presented in your browser window as purple squiggly underlines (just like the underlining that Microsoft Word uses for spell checking when you are creating documents and it doesn't have the word in it's dictionary, mis-spelled or not) highlighting your content with links to Microsoft and it's partners.

This has two immediate consequences. It fractures the web by placing links on sites you designed without your knowledge or permission. It changes the context of sites you created. In the June 7th story in the Wall Street Journal, New Windows XP Feature

Can Re-Edit Others' Sites[8], Walter S. Mossberg said that the XP product would re-edit your site. It will not change your text but it sure as hell will co-opt your sites for someone elses benefit. Walt is not alone here. [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

The second and more dangerous issue is the destination of these links. By Microsoft's published admission;

" Microsoft officials confirm that they will send users to Microsoft Web properties or to other properties blessed by Microsoft. One of the links did work: It launched Microsoft's mediocre search engine, which is packed with plugs for other Microsoft services." [8]

David Coursey thinks that they are wonderful;[14]

Smart Tags are a great invention and deserve a fair shake. And perhaps now you, dear reader, understand why companies don't like their beta software leaking out before it's ready.

Beta Envy, David?

This is a threat to the free and open creation and viewing of the web. When you consider that it was Microsoft products were responsible for the world wide damage created by the Mellisa virus and their intent is to lock you in to their world with .Net and hailstorm products don't be surprised if a large number of sites put up a page like this There is no cure on the horizon. The alleged meta tag <meta name="MSSmartTagsPreventParsing" content="TRUE"> to turn off this behaviour does not work as of this posting. This is a viral marketing tactic on the same level as the Ebola Virus or HIV in humans.

I hope that you can enjoy the CSS Box Model. I am not going to play for Microsoft.


  1. NCSA Mosaic
  2. Web Standards Project
  3. World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
  4. Fucked Company - listing crash and burn victims of the new economy
  5. K10K the designers Lunchbox
  6. the ageless project
  7. Developing Simple Smart Tags
  8. New Windows XP Feature Can Re-Edit Others' Sites
  9. Smart-ass tags - Doc Searls
  10. June 9, 2001 - Scott Andrew
  11. Friday, June 8, 2001 - Edit This, Bucko - Deborah Branscum
  12. GlennLogs
  13. The Microsoft Internet - The Next Episode
  14. Are Smart Tags part of an MS plot? (Hint: the WSJ is wrong!)

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