Tags, Autolink, and Microformats

Danny Sullivan doesn’t see tags as all that. Rubel doesn’t see Autolink as all that. Will XFolk be all that?

Danny Sullivan over at SearchEngineWatch.com is skeptical of the benefits of tagging. After all, he points out, we’ve had the meta keywords element in HTML for years and most Search Engines started ignoring it after so many people abused it. He sees tags as no different, suggesting that they’ll be abused before long.

I agree with this to some extent. I remember when I first heard of tagging, I wanted to know, “how is that different than meta tags?”. I think we’ll see in the coming months…and we’ll also see some interesting things on the kind-of-related “microformat” front. Microformats are basically an “extension” of XHTML that leverages a standard format so that aggregators can understand them (and people thought the semantic web was bunk). For example, Bud Gibson is proposing a new XFolk microformat for folksonomies. Interesting stuff!

Over at Steve Rubel’s Micropersuasion (a blog I’ve been reading recently), there’s a raging debate about Google’s new Autolink feature. In the post Steve suggests that because of Google’s size and apparent willingness to tread on unclear ground (by overwriting or rewriting links within a web page), that there should be serious cause for concern. He doesn’t see it very different than when Microsoft tried a similar thing not too long ago.

This is a tough one. I think the answer will lie somewhere in the middle of the two warring camps. I think that user choice is correct (of course), but I don’t see a tool that rewrites links as the answer. I would OK with a tool that allows users to overwrite say, on a site-to-site basis or even more granular than that, but only with direct user control.

What I’m afraid of is users seeing changed content without realizing it (kind of like users thinking that Windows = computers without realizing that there are many more choices out there). This serves to make all of our content less valuable because users will make associations that just aren’t there: in an extreme case it will serve to dilute our content to the point of no value. So, at the very least, the Google Autolink should be turned off by default…and now I’m just reading this very good overview of the situation at kuro5hin.com which elucidates my argument (and others) more comprehensively than I was going to. Go read that.

Back to Rubel’s site: I was interested to see David Sims takes my notes from yesterday concerning Google and apply them to his argument(scroll down a ways). He even points out that I wasn’t talking about Autolink, but I was talking about where value comes from, and that’s through user choice.

Published: March 24th, 2005