No doubt Google is installing its technology in a different way than Microsoft did with Smart Tags. AutoLink is a feature within the Google Toolbar, which itself is an add-on to IE that a user elects to download. Microsoft had proposed directly including Smart Tags within the operating system and the browser. Google isnt attempting to direct all the traffic to Google sites, Mayer said. In the one linking option where Google links to its mapping service, it also offers an option for users to change the default site to either Yahoo Maps or MapQuest.com Inc.Reider runs a travel site called CanuckAbroad.com, where he includes links to a range of affiliate partners including a Canada-based online bookseller. AutoLinks addition of links to Amazon.com could steer visitors away from one of his revenue sources, he said. "Its difficult because on one hand as a user its a useful feature, but as a Webmaster you dont want people or programs overriding or overwriting your Web page," Reider said. Reiders bigger concern is that Google could expand beyond ISBNs and add AutoLinks to commercial products, for example when the word "iPod" appears on a Web page, and divert users to its Froogle shopping site or advertising partners. But Mayer said that Google selected the third-party links for AutoLinks based on the reliability of the providers. For AutoLink, Google has created no formal partnerships or revenue-sharing arrangements, Mayer said. In the tool bar beta, AutoLink links to Amazon.com for ISBNs, to United Parcel Service of America Inc. and FedEx Corp. for package tracking, and to Carfax Inc. for VINs. Mayer said Google is likely to allow users to configure the links to third-party sites in future releases of the tool bar. "Our relationships with copyright owners and publishers are incredibly important," she said. "It was as a result of a respect for copyright and publisher rights that we made this an elective feature." Despite Webmaster concerns, Googles feature appears to be focused on improving the user experience rather than on taking control from Web publishers, said Allen Weiner, a research director at Gartner Inc. In any case, he doubts that users will find too much value in using AutoLink in its current implementation. The feature does not always insert links on addresses, depending on how addresses are formatted on a page, and the number of Web pages listing ISBNs, tracking numbers and VINs is limited, he said. "I call this a work in progress," Weiner said. "They believe that they are offering a convenience to people, and I think its all a proof of concept and is part of Googles mode of trying out a bunch of things." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on enterprise search technology.
For many Web developers, though, software-initiated changes to Web pages raise concerns. The addition of links on book ISBNs, for example, could compete with a Web sites own links to book sellers where the site owner may be receiving a share of any revenue from sales, said Matt Reider, a Web and new media consultant based in Victoria, British Columbia.