Google has ignited a bit of a tempest by including a feature in their new toolbar that creates links on Web pages by scanning the content. So, for example, if there’s a tracking number on a Web page, Google will create a link to the package tracking page for that number. Or if it finds an address, it will add a link to a map to that address. Needless to say, there are some issues here. If I’m an Amazon.com affiliate and the Google Toolbar creates links to the Barnes & Noble Web site when it finds ISBNs on my site, they could very well be taking money out of my pocket. On the other hand, if I’m visiting the Web site for a local restaurant and there’s an address on the home page, an immediate link out to a map definitely improves my user experience. The balance that has to be struck is that links are currency, and by adding alternatives to the links already on a site, Google is in some ways taking away from the people who created those sites. I think that in this case, the utility of the added links is outweighed by the interests of the people who created the Web sites in the first place. The two apt examples here seem to me to be Microsoft’s Smart Tags, which everybody is mentioning, and Gator, the spyware that popped up advertising relevant to the Web pages that you visited. For this whole Web thing to work, the browser companies (and, in this case, browser add-on companies) need to respect the people who build the Web sites.
Update: Anil Dash argues the counterpoint. (So does Jason Levine.)