Smart Tags, Autolinks and

By David Coursey  |  Posted 2005-02-24 Print this article Print

Copyright Issues"> There are a variety of issues here, including trademark and copyright. Do these links effectively steal content and change it, thus violating copyright? And is creating links based upon a companys trademark a violation of the mark? Does it matter that users must install the linking software and, in Googles case, invoke it to create the links? In the Microsoft world, Smart Tags remain a part of Microsoft Office, where they are used, among other things, to add Outlook functionality to Microsoft Word. In Word, Smart Tags look for names, addresses, phone numbers and other bits of information. When found, a light red line appears beneath the recognized term.
Roll your cursor over the underline and an information icon appears, from which you can click to select a variety of options based on the type of information that was tagged. For example, a name recognized from your Outlook contact list could be used to create an e-mail or an appointment with the contact. Back in 2001, I didnt think Smart Tags were such a bad idea. Microsoft had created an SDK (software development kit)—its still available—that allowed other information providers to create links to their sites from within IE as well. Thus, wherever a user surfed, if there was something on screen that could be linked to, the links would be created. And customers would get to choose the targets of this links. Dont like MSN? Turn off those Smart Tags and replace them with Google or Yahoo. To read John Tascheks 2001 opinion on Microsofts Smart Tags, click here. I was sorry that Smart Tags in IE never got a fair hearing. So I am happy Google has introduced AutoLink, again raising the issue of added links within Internet Explorer. My hope is that Microsoft will resume its Smart Tags program for IE, though Redmond may wait and let Google absorb the court challenges likely to occur. Right now, Google has only a toe in the water and its hard for people to complain about the AutoLinks it now provides. Unless youre Barnes & Noble, I suppose. But Google has already been challenged for using brand names entered as search terms to generate competitive paid listings returned alongside the users search result. Could this objection apply to AutoLink? It depends on the types of links the service ultimately provides. If it turns "Pepsi" into a link to Coca-Cola I am pretty sure there will be a fight. If Google sells these links the way it sells search terms, the potential problems multiply. While I find AutoLink occasionally useful, I support protection of intellectual property. If you write and publish a Web page and attract someone to look at it, how much control should you have over what the user sees? Should a service like AutoLink be able to use your page to drag your customer to a competitors site? Its not clear what the law has to say about this. And until we know more, automatic tagging and linking will remain under a cloud. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on enterprise search technology.

One of technology's most recognized bylines, David Coursey is Special Correspondent for, where he writes a daily Blog ( and twice-weekly column. He is also Editor/Publisher of the Technology Insights newsletter and President of DCC, Inc., a professional services and consulting firm.

Former Executive Editor of ZDNet AnchorDesk, Coursey has also been Executive Producer of a number of industry conferences, including DEMO, Showcase, and Digital Living Room. Coursey's columns have been quoted by both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and he has appeared on ABC News Nightline, CNN, CBS News, and other broadcasts as an expert on computing and the Internet. He has also written for InfoWorld, USA Today, PC World, Computerworld, and a number of other publications. His Web site is

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