I guess it's that time again, you know, the one where I speak out on an issue that's currently raging in the blogosphere. Exciting stuff, I know. The issue of the moment is, of course, the Google Toolbar, an application that sits in your web browser and provides a helpful interface to some of Google's facilities. The fuss is all about a button called "AutoLink", which, when you press it, changes un-hyperlinked addresses, Federal Express tracking numbers, and ISBNs into hyperlinks that to Google Maps, the FedEx tracking page, or Amazon, depending on what it finds. So, for example, if I was to write 531 Carmicahel, Chapel Hill, NC 27514 here, then pressing "AutoLink" would change the text to a link which would show exactly where that is. (Incidentally, if you're currently living in 531: I'm sorry for the junk mail that you get in my name. But I would like to point out that it wasn't me who signed you up for the NRA leaflets. Or the Elizabeth Dole updates. Oh, and I wish I could say how to make the room appear bigger. I don't think it can be done. Go next door and gaze in envy at 532, who is paying the same money as you, but appears to have a much bigger room! (It's actually only an inch wider, but it means you can get the bed against the window, which changes the whole appearance of the room)) Anyway, reaction on the web to this new feature has been slightly perplexing. You might have thought, as I did, "well, that's a cool trick," and promptly forgot about it. I think most people did, but there's a vocal group of people objecting to AutoLink. Their complaints range from wanting Google to open the APIs involved so third parties can add their own links and change where the current annotations go to (sensible, and Google has already added different options so you can go to MapQuest instead of Google Maps, for example), to a bunch of people screaming that Google has now become evil and that this is the end of the web as we know it. I really can't see the problem. Dave Winer's essay against the Toolbar goes all over the place, making incorrect statements about how it works (AutoLink-added links change the cursor when hovered over, thus they are different from normal links), and spending most of its time worrying about what AutoLink could do, instead of what it does. This seems to be a common theme amongst those argument against AutoLink; I've read tens of weblogs that all talk about how it automatically changes web pages, but it does no such thing. It sits, patiently, doing nothing until the user clicks on the button. Only then does it look out for items it can link, and if something is already linked, it does not change that like. So it's not going to rewrite your Amazon Associates Code and give Google all the money you were making from sales. There's also an argument that says that Google is violating the copyright of the web author when AutoLink is used. Tosh. It's no different from buying a book, underlining passages, and writing notes in the margin. Plus, copyright infringement is mainly concerned with redistribution, and that doesn't happen here - it's just a page on a user's computer, which she could change herself is she wanted to, or write a browser plug-in that did the same thing. Would that be unacceptable to the anti-AutoLink camp? Is Bloglines bad because it takes RSS feeds and republishes them without the author's consent (hey, I wasn't asked. I'm cool with it, though)? How do I feel about AutoLink? I think it's great. I love the idea of having an option to find more information about what I'm reading (it's similar to the BBC News Wiki idea, in a way, or the Accessible Odeon pages), and as a web author, I don't mind if people want to do things like this to my work. It improves their web experience, and I'm all for that.