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By Bob McElwain
Posted Friday, December 3, 2004

Microsoft has said a lot about Smart Tags. And it is Microsoft who claims this is a "smart" idea.

I'm not a fan of Microsoft products. Still, there are real benefits to all software developers and PC users in the uniformity from system to system that Windows provides. But if Microsoft makes this move, it's a step too far. Here's what Smart Tags will do.

> Advertisers will agree to pay a fixed amount for a click on a keyword. As at GoTo.Com, keyword "ownership" is subject to a higher bid.

> Website pages downloaded from any website to any computer using Windows will be scanned for these keywords.

> Those found will be highlighted and converted to links to the advertiser's site.

I've heard talk of Smart Tags for some time. There has been an awesome hue and cry of opposition. I was glad Microsoft responded by deciding against including this "feature" in their new XP operating system.

Then The Other Shoe Dropped

Something just as "good" as Smart Tags is already here. And it's ugly. Here's a quote from "The San Francisco Chronicle."

"TOPtext is an example of 'contextual advertising,' the latest attempt by online advertisers to reach the eyes and minds of Web surfers. TOPtext turns existing words on a Web page into hyperlinks that redirect a computer user to the advertiser's site." (The full article is available at either of the following links. Erase the spaces and returns in the first one before pasting.)

KaZaA is using a plug in to IE (Internet Explorer) called TOPtext from eZula . For details, please see "Is Someone Hijacking YOUR Visitors?" by Bob Smith above. For some screen shots of results, check this out on Bob's site. (It's a must, for once seen, you won't forget it.)

My Most Valuable Assets

My most prized business assets are not things, but visitors. The path to profits on my site, as on many, is to first generate a subscriber. Through "STAT News," I'm able to build the credibility that brings the sale.

By adding a link on "small businesses" on my subscription sign up page, my most valuable potential asset is being lured to another site. I lose. Someone else grabs the gain.

On my home page, the added link under the ebook I'm selling seeks to steal a potential sale. The advertiser pays maybe 15 cents if the link is clicked, and I lose the potential of a $29 sale.

Since the link is redirected, the user can not return to my site with the Back button. Thus it is unlikely he or she ever will. This is grim at best, but ...

What Matters Most

While I remain concerned about such theft, I am more concerned about my credibility. Most surfers are not computer experts. Most will never recognize these links were added by software running on their system. They are quite likely to believe I am recommending this company. That I am in fact suggesting they leave my site to go to this more important destination.

What will happen to people's view of me if I "link" to a company with a publicly recognized bad reputation? Or to someone I directly oppose? Or to one I totally mistrust? If this isn't crystal clear, consider a link from your site redirected to a p o r n site.

The "New" Ebook Revolution

Several of the most popular ebook compilers link to IE for display. (My ebooks do; this may change soon!) Imagine what gibberish TOPtext can make of an exquisite ebook page.

The future of ebooks remains uncertain. Sure, they'll be around. But the format is now up in the air. It's a blow to a lot of people heavily committed, some with profits not yet rolling in.

The Insidious Factor

One of the things that makes this such an ugly evolution is that webmasters may never know it's happening. Further, there's the obvious impact of slowing download speed, because of the additional time to add the links. And this matters. But it is minor compared to what your pages will look like.

Just how does one design a great looking, carefully polished site that can hold this appearance when randomly highlighted in yellow?

What Is Microsoft Thinking?

I don't know if Microsoft is in any way a part of this particular "experiment." But the effects are so much like the results they expect from Smart Tags, it is difficult to accept this implementation as a coincidence.

I suspect Microsoft will watch developments with great care. If they can figure a "better" plan, will they implement it in Windows? If so, then whatever browser is in use, results will be the same. And MS will be in a position to control the advertising. There is inconceivable profit potential in this.

Legal Possibilities

I have no doubt but what this issue will be brought to court. I've a picture of a Ford site reacting to "truck" highlighted on their site with a link to a Chevy site.

This part of the tale may prove interesting. I'm fascinated by the following notion I don't believe has come up before.

If you buy a book, you may deface it in any way you please. It will be argued that since the downloaded page is on the visitor's computer, they own it, that the user (or software selected) can therefore do as they please with it.

To me, the way in which a page is delivered to a visitor is immaterial. It's my creation. Excepting for limitations in my coding, I expect my visitor to see it as created.

A Boon To Advertising?

Maybe. It is something entirely different to webmasters who have spent agonizing hours building site content.

How will this end?

I can't even guess. But if it does not, the Web as we know it now will be history.

About the Author
Bob McElwain
Want to build a winning site? Improve one you already have? Fix one that's busted? Get ANSWERS. Subscribe to "STAT News" now! Web marketing and consulting since 1993 Site:
Phone: 209-742-6349


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