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The Icon Bar: News and features: Microsoft Smart Tags - how to switch 'em off

Microsoft Smart Tags - how to switch 'em off

Posted by Richard Goodwin on 13:00, 26/6/2001 | ,
Some of you have expressed concern about Microsoft's new scheme to take over the Internet - or at least, re-write parts of your website.

Previous paragraph notwithstanding, I didn't want to post a purely sensationalised account of this MS scheme, but promised to post when details of the promised disabling mechanism were released.

The code you need is...
<meta name="MSSmartTagsPreventParsing" content="TRUE">
...which should go in the header of your web pages - every one where you don't want Microsoft looking for key words and adding links to their site or their advertising partners' sites. This probably means that you're going to have to add it to every web page you own or maintain.

Note that this feature is only part of Office XP and Internet Explorer 6, and is supposed to be set "off" by default. However, this was not the case in the beta versions.

Source: The Register

  Microsoft Smart Tags - how to switch 'em off
  (18:33 26/6/2001)
  Andrew Poole (18:35 26/6/2001)
    Ben Brook (19:11 26/6/2001)
      Peter Price (20:22 26/6/2001)
        Gunnlaugur Jonsson (21:01 26/6/2001)
          Peter Price (23:51 26/6/2001)
            Sendu Bala (01:14 27/6/2001)
              richard cheng (09:47 27/6/2001)
                Ian Cranna (10:13 27/6/2001)
                  Guy Inchbald (11:11 27/6/2001)
                    Richard Goodwin (11:27 27/6/2001)
                      Gunnlaugur Jonsson (11:44 27/6/2001)
                        Jeffrey Lee (12:02 27/6/2001)
                          Richard Goodwin (12:09 27/6/2001)
                            Tom McMillen (13:15 27/6/2001)
                              Gunnlaugur Jonsson (14:30 27/6/2001)
                                Richard Goodwin (15:10 27/6/2001)
                                  Richard Goodwin (15:15 27/6/2001)
                                    Sendu Bala (22:42 27/6/2001)
                                      Geoff Youngs (00:18 28/6/2001)
                                        Richard Goodwin (09:37 28/6/2001)
                                          Andrew Flegg (10:37 28/6/2001)
                                            Guy Inchbald (12:11 28/6/2001)
                                              richard cheng (12:21 28/6/2001)
                                                Andrew Flegg (12:25 28/6/2001)
                                                  Richard Goodwin (16:01 28/6/2001)
                                                    Richard Goodwin (16:09 28/6/2001)
                                                      Tom McMillen (07:36 29/6/2001)
                                                        Gunnlaugur Jonsson (10:38 29/6/2001)
Andrew Sidwell Message #88745, posted at 18:33, 26/6/2001
Unregistered user Smart Tags seem quite a good idea, but the way M$
are going to use it to roll in more money is evil
to end-users - most of whom want to see the links
that the web page creators put in and not M$ dirt.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Andrew Poole Message #88746, posted at 18:35, 26/6/2001, in reply to message #88745
Unregistered user I personally don't agree with them being able to do this, and according to the poll on the riscos.net website, 12 of 14 people to vote so far don't agree with it and think it shouldn't be legal, 1 person agrees but thinks it shouldn't be legal and one person is unsure until they see it. What is the general view of the people here about it?
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Ben Brook Message #88747, posted at 19:11, 26/6/2001, in reply to message #88746
Unregistered user The customers of web sites that I've done sometimes mention company names but don't want to link to that company. The ability to disable this feature in your own HTML is very useful but still begs the question as to its usefulness.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Peter Price Message #88748, posted at 20:22, 26/6/2001, in reply to message #88747
Unregistered user This feature has been around in other browsers such as Neoplanet for some time.

I have no problem with it - especially as anybody in the world can view your HTML already...

It just seems a bit strange from a programming point of view to give the on/off switch to the webmaster rather than the end user. For example, it's the user who decides if they want to receive cookies/shockwave/flash/secure content or not, not the webmaster. I should be able to choose how my browser operates.


  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Gunnlaugur Jonsson Message #88749, posted at 21:01, 26/6/2001, in reply to message #88748
Unregistered user Of course it should be in the hands of the webmaster to turn it ON, it should be OFF by default and the website should ALWAYS be the ones to decide what links are available from THEIR websites. One of the better points made against this "feature" is that Ford could by buying the word "car" from Micro get a lot of links on the General Motors website - I bet GM would love this!

That <MSSmartTagsPreventParsing> meta tag should in fact be: <MSSmartTagsAllowParsing> forcing webmaster that want this feature to turn it ON not forcing all those who don't want their material being forcefully mutated by some Redmond dictator to turn it OFF!

M$ should at least provide a way to eliminate this from an entire website with the simple addition of a single file that says no to this unwelcome breach of copyright!

Aren't RISC OS webmasters going to love it that everytime a IE6 user stumbles on a website that promotes RISC OS but mentions the words "operating system" and the possible converts get links to Microsofts website all over their sites?

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Peter Price Message #88750, posted at 23:51, 26/6/2001, in reply to message #88749
Unregistered user Is there any evidence to suggest that the highlighting will be bad? Is there information somewhere that states that MS will be _selling_ keywords to advertisers?

If, for example, words are highlighted and show related content based on the Open Directory data, RISC OS websites will fair rather better than Apple ones (because there are more RISC OS links in dmoz.org than Apple).

Also, the last comment says that highlighting on RISC OS websites would deter Windows users away from the platform. If the news reports about MS selling advertising are correct, I would be interested to see if the keyword 'RISC OS' is actually bought by anyone. I doubt it somehow especially as (bar just one or two exceptions) RISC OS dealers and developers have no idea what web advertising is.

You should be more worried about the pathetic number of proffessional looking websites created and, more importantly, maintained by RISC OS dealers and developers which is doing more to deter new users from the platform than any keyword highlighting ever will.


  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Sendu Bala Message #88751, posted at 01:14, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88750
Unregistered user Gunnlaugur, I don't think you can argue that webmasters have the right to turn off a user preference. If I want my links red and not underlined, that's my business. My browser, my choice. Likewise for text sizes, fonts etc. Of course it's easy for webmasters to override all of these preferences I have, but that doesn't make it right.

Peter: http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/4/19943.html
Draw your own conclusions with regard to your selling keywords question. Essentially, it would seem individual site owners can use smarttags to make money.

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
richard cheng Message #88752, posted at 09:47, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88751
Unregistered user But it's *not* a user preference. That's the whole point. The content of webpages is not just the plain text, it's the HTML, so by adding links to words which were not intended by the author of the page the *content* of the page is being altered. As a web designer I should have control over my site's content. See http://www.zdnet.com/intweek/stories/columns/0,4164,2772297,00.html for an amusing example of how this could pan out.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Ian Cranna Message #88753, posted at 10:13, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88752
Unregistered user What is to stop, for example, a school website being hi-jacked ?

It is unacceptable that a third party can alter a website and introduce links to destinations which may have absolutely no connection with the organisation posting the site in the first place. What would be the public reaction to a primary school website with a link to some form of 'adult advertising' ?

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Guy Inchbald Message #88754, posted at 11:11, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88753
Unregistered user If I read the Register articles correctly, the tag does not necessarily disable all smart tags, but certain of them remain live.
Something to do with "trusted partners" but I confess I lost it about there ...
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Richard Goodwin Message #88755, posted at 11:27, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88754
Unregistered user As far as I can tell, the tag will disable all remote smart tags, but you can choose to add your own smart tags to your web site even with the disabling meta tag in place. Seems a bit silly as, seeing as it's your site, you could just put in regular links yourself anyway.

I think the big problem is that MS thought they could get away with this, and then came the backlash so they had to quickly backtrack and say that it'd be switched off in the browser by default (it's not in the beta version from what I've read), and that the web page designer could force them off. However, as some have pointed out it's not for the designer to say "no, I don't want them", it should be a "yes, please add them" tag; there's an arguement that they are essentially re-writing a copyright piece of material for their own ends, which in some crazy way makes adding tags to a cached page the same as ripping off chunks of text in regular plagurism cases.

Of course this "well, you can switch them off with a simple meta tag" was probably also a lie at the time, because it took many days for this information to become available; so it looks for all the world like someone made that up on the spur of the moment to placate the angry mob and then they had to actually get around to implementing it after the fact.

I think the backslash has served it's purpose - MS have had to back down, and water down the system to the point where it's, well, pointless, so I'm thinking it might even be dropped just like that damned paperclip. Hence, I didn't make a big story out of this. However, these sort of shinegans are par for the course with big business, so it's good that people are vigilant enough to keep them at least semi-honest.

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Gunnlaugur Jonsson Message #88756, posted at 11:44, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88755
Unregistered user Sendu I wasn't saying that the right to turn of underlining of links or changing the default colour should be taken from the user! This has nothing to do with SmartTags at all.

I was arguing that the website owner has full rights to decide WHAT links are available from his site. The browser developer has NO RIGHT to alter the site as SmartTags are doing. SmartTags are adding links to sites that the website owner had no intention of having there. That is in my opinion a breach of copyright and should be dealt with accordingly.

The fact that it is Micro that is doing this is what worries me (and many others) most. M$ isn't exactly known for their etiquette and goodwill towards their competitors and with this they have a pretty good tool to force users to their sites and products. The fact is that once Micro has a sales tool of this proportion it will be abused, history has shown that again and again and it's not even remotely likely M$ has all of a sudden had a change of heart and is doing this with the users best interest in mind.

Micro is going to sell "words" to be tagged, don't even dream that they won't and it's not likely that they'll even think of using anything like the Open Directory to highlight words, they don't even give you a choice of search engine but force you to use a Micr owned engine. Why on earth would they want someone else to have any control over this at all when they can sell it or abuse it themselves? It's not like M$ is a big fan of people with knowledge!

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Jeffrey Lee Message #88757, posted at 12:02, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88756
Unregistered user I reckon we should sue Micro for all the extra space all these silly tags and things take up on web servers!

And whoever invented HTML should sue them for calling them 'Micro HTML Documents'!

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Richard Goodwin Message #88758, posted at 12:09, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88757
Unregistered user It probably won't take any extra space on servers - they only change the page after it's been downloaded, so it's just taking up extra space on your local machine (probably memory for the cached page, and disk for the tagging mechanism in the first place).

But yes, they do seem quite fond of taking other people's innovations and making like they own it.

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Tom McMillen Message #88759, posted at 13:15, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88758
Unregistered user For a good overview of what may/may not be possible by using MS Smart Tags from a web designer/content producers point of view see this weeks www.alistapart.com. This highlights some of the possible privacy and legal issues surrounding smart tags, and also has a nice suggestion for those personal (and perhaps also RiscOS) sites to adopt of adding an additional pop up window to inform IE6 users about the changes that are being made to the content they are reading by the IE6 browser, or even just denying access to IE6 users to the sites on Fridays.

Where do Microsoft want you to go today?

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Gunnlaugur Jonsson Message #88760, posted at 14:30, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88759
Unregistered user Tom, that link doesn't work - an updated one, please?
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Richard Goodwin Message #88761, posted at 15:10, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88760
Unregistered user Works for me...
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Richard Goodwin Message #88762, posted at 15:15, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88761
Unregistered user BTW - where does Microsoft want you to go today? Well, I've just installed the IE6 beta to answer just that question :)


  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Sendu Bala Message #88763, posted at 22:42, 27/6/2001, in reply to message #88762
Unregistered user Just answering some points made above in a random order...

I'm as anti Microsoft as the next guy, but the concept of smarttags (I don't know how Microsofts actual implementation will turn out) seems ok.
No smarttags don't change the html of a page. Users would be able to choose and manage their smarttags. They could create their own. They don't have to use any Microsoft created smarttags (delete them, then refuse stuff from Microsoft in the security settings).
You make money by disabling smarttags then allowing people to pay you to selectively reenable their set of smarttags.
I see smarttags as a useful feature for users. I see no reason why TIB would begrudge me the ability to link to, say, the Cerilica home page everytime they mention them. Right now, if TIB don't link the word themselves I have to load my hotlist or browse through an online directory of RISC OS companies. Why should TIB care of I enabled a feature that let me speed up and automate this? Quite frankly, it's not their buisines. How I surf is up to me.
Smarttags do not affect copyright. It's like writing an article in impression, sending it to someone, but with a note to say that using the impression thesaurus would break their copyright. By double clicking on one of their copyrighted words, the thesaurus has the audacity to suggest different words! Good god, the world might just end.
Or not.

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Geoff Youngs Message #88764, posted at 00:18, 28/6/2001, in reply to message #88763
Unregistered user The issue is control, not usabillity.

From the usabillity aspect, I doubt that many people will have a problem with a feature which is turned off by default, but which creates links to other relevant websites automatically if they want to see them.

From both a users point of view, to use/allow such a feature on my website I would expect (at the very least) to create my own local "smart links", for a site/page (e.g. <link rel="SmartTags" type="microsoft/abomination" href="tags.stg"> ;-) which would override the defaults. In addition, as a user I would expect to have the final say as to which smart links I liked and the abillity to override all other tags. (e.g. If "Latest Headlines" was used, I would expect to be able to point it towards Ananova.com instead off cnn.com or bbc.co.uk, or "Operating System" to riscos.com etc).

"In that case you might as well just link" is equivalent to "You might as well use the <font> tag instead of CSS". It's a different concept which isn't properly solved by conventional markup, but equally isn't solved by the descriptions I've heard of IE6 either.

Properly implemented, it should (IMHO) be similar to a proper CSS implementation, which takes control away from the designer (who can now only suggest what the site should look like, while the user has the abillity to overiding it) - look at http://www.opera.com in Opera with user styles selected for an example :)

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Richard Goodwin Message #88765, posted at 09:37, 28/6/2001, in reply to message #88764
Unregistered user Sendu - the point about smart tags is that they won't link to Cerilica; they'll only link to site Microsoft want you to link to, because most people won't be savvy enough to create their own smart tags, or even manage the features - not because they're thick, but because they don't know any better (hands up all the people who have switched their cookies to be opted out for Doubleclick ads). It's extremely likely that these tags will creep into all aspects of Windows, so just like running Windows 98 without Internet Explorer installed it's technically possible but bloody unlikely. Already it's been proven that you can't run OfficeXP properly without smart tags, as some of the features are written in using the smart tag facility. Without making a stand now, they'll be a "standard" before long and you'll be forced to enable them.

So, when a story about Cerilica comes up, a link to rival products by Adobe are much more likely to appear. Cerilica won't get a look in because Microsoft won't have heard of them; but Adobe could pay for MS to link to the Adobe site whenever graphical tools come up, yet will have the programmers to make sure rival products don't appear on *their* site. Put bluntly, if I want a link to Cerilica's site put in content I've produced, I can put one in myself, thanks - as I proved on the next news item.

Frankly if I write something I want it to stay as written. I might give an editor permission to cut it down or correct the spelling, but I do not give anyone the right to change the entire meaning of it. I don't care if this means re-writing the words to reverse the meaning, or changing the HTML to link to rival sites.

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Andrew Flegg Message #88766, posted at 10:37, 28/6/2001, in reply to message #88765
Unregistered user Richard,

It's all very well saying you don't want what you've written to change, but what about the tools on the web to pass a given page through a Swedish Chef translator, a mirror effect or even just through Babelfish a couple of times.

I'm waiting to see how smart tags turn out but I /can/ see them being useful to the user - which *is* the point of the web: not graphic design, but user experience.

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Guy Inchbald Message #88767, posted at 12:11, 28/6/2001, in reply to message #88766
Unregistered user As I see the argument so far: smart tags can be useful to the user, but you need to be a bit savvy and they are open to abuse.

I'll bet lots of people, like ISP's for example, will set up services to maintain your smart tags for you. Great idea if I trust them. Lousy idea if the big boys just buy up the prime tags (as in the exmple where Adobe might hijack mentions of Cerilica 'graphic tools').

That's why I was trying to figure the "trusted partners" bit ...

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
richard cheng Message #88768, posted at 12:21, 28/6/2001, in reply to message #88767
Unregistered user Andrew,
But the difference is, smart tags will affect *all* the pages you have written (ignoring the meta-tag for a minute). The tools which translate web pages into Swedish Chef etc, only affect your web pages when viewed via the tool, and as such your website is for the majority of the time going to be read as intended, and will only be read in Swedish Chef form on occasion by those who fully choose to do so.

Sendu, the concept of smart tags as described by you is, as you say, not a bad one. However, Microsoft's implementation is dramatically different from what you describe. And it is this implementation which people are complaining about.
It is not the user who gets to choose what smart tags to use, but Microsoft.

This is a bad thing.

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Andrew Flegg Message #88769, posted at 12:25, 28/6/2001, in reply to message #88768
Unregistered user Anyway, the discussion's probably moot:

"MS kills off WinXP SmartTag plans"

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Richard Goodwin Message #88770, posted at 16:01, 28/6/2001, in reply to message #88769
Unregistered user Andrew -

the sites that makes everything like a swedish chef etc. are comedy sites that the individual has to choose to go to, not something that abitrarily changes every page. You know that the content has been changed, because you explicitly told it to.

And most of these services have been sued, causing many to shut down. So by that example, Microsoft should be equally suable for doing the same thing. Bad example! :)

As MS are saying that they're not shipping smart tags any more (how long will it last though?) it would appear that they have realised the error of their ways. Score one for the good guys ;)

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Richard Goodwin Message #88771, posted at 16:09, 28/6/2001, in reply to message #88770
Unregistered user
"At this time we just don't believe it's going to be ready when (Windows XP) ships in October," Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan said late Wednesday. "External feedback" was one of the factors that led the company to remove the feature, although he indicated it could be resurrected in later versions.
From news.com
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Tom McMillen Message #88772, posted at 07:36, 29/6/2001, in reply to message #88771
Unregistered user If www.alistapart.com doesn't work try


for the reasons why alistapart is suffering you can read it here: http://www.zeldman.com/daily/com0601e.html#willnooneridmeofthismeddlesomepriest

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Gunnlaugur Jonsson Message #88773, posted at 10:38, 29/6/2001, in reply to message #88772
Unregistered user Strange coincidence with Network Solutions messing um their domain. I registered a domain at Network Solutions earlier this month and though the registration went through and I'm the owner of that domain, I still can't set up a web page because NS doesn't allow me to change the relevant settings!
  ^[ Log in to reply ]

The Icon Bar: News and features: Microsoft Smart Tags - how to switch 'em off