Microsoft's Smart Tags

Microsoft's smart tag technology is described on their Internet Explorer 6 Public Preview - Smart Tags page. Quotes on this page (shown in italics) are taken from this page, unless otherwise noted.
Link opens in new window Microsoft IE6 - Smart Tags

What it is

Smart Tags are a feature of Internet Explorer that add smart links to pages you view. Smart Tags enable real-time, dynamic recognition of content on Web pages and offer you relevant options as you work. By hovering and clicking on these smart links, you can get access to additional information or perform convenient Web tasks. For example, a Smart Tag might detect the names of major companies on the Web and tag them, allowing you to access stock quotes and company information.

Why it may be a problem

To me the problems with smart tags can be summed up in four words: usability, context, commercialization and diversity.

Usability. On most websites you'll find links displayed in a certain way across the site: underlined or non-underlined, bold, displayed in a different color from the rest of the text, and / or preceded by an icon, etc. When browsing the site visitors learn about this convention, and expect links on the site to look and behave in a certain way. Smart tags look and behave differently from other links on the page, and may confuse the visitor.

Context. On a page where an abused wife describes how her husband chases her around the bedroom trying to hit her with a whiskey bottle, a hyperlink from the word "whiskey" to the Jack Daniels home page would be wildly inappropriate. When adding hyperlinks is an automated process, this kind of inappropriate links is impossible to prevent.

Commercialization. This is a non-commercial website. If I wanted to provide links to commercial sites, I would be selling ad space. This would have the advantage of giving me at least some control of the products the site would be advertising. Since having their site linked through smart tags is not within everybody's means, it is not unreasonable to expect that smart tags will mainly be linking to commercial sites, the choice of which is outside of the page author's control.

Diversity. Opera comes with a built-in link to Google, which makes it easy to search on any word or combination of words on a web page. As a web page author, I don't have any problems with that. A visitor has to make a concious decision to activate the search, they can choose from a whole range of search results, and registration in Google is basically open to everyone. With smart tags the user can decide which smart tags to install, but most users will be using the smart tags provided by Microsoft.

What to do about it

On the Neowin forum I found this message: Microsoft are poised to release a newer build of Internet Explorer 6.0 to official testers. Windows Update Testers received build 6.0.2479 of IE6 some time ago, all indications point to testers getting a newer build (currently at 6.0.2495). Now with Smart Tag toggle feature on the "Standard button's" bar this will clear up all of the issues surrounding the new Smart Tag feature, like Image toggle, users can now choose on the fly whether the need to see "Smart Tag's" on the site easily instead of digging into the "Advanced Options" to turn it on or off. Apparently this feature is still under development.
Link opens in new window Neowin - 6/22/2001 Internet Explorer 6.0 announcement

Opt-out or opt-in

If you are a Web author, you can disable Smart Tag recognition in Internet Explorer within a Web page by adding a Meta tag to that Web page. After adding this tag, any Smart Tags that the author has added to the page will continue to work, but Internet Explorer will not dynamically add new tags when users view the page. The tag is:
<meta name="MSSmartTagsPreventParsing" content="TRUE">

In other words: to disable smart tags I'll need to go through each and every page on my site and add a line of non-standards compliant code. These things should be opt-in, not opt-out.

More information

More links can be found in my weblog:
On-site link, opens in this window 01/08/10 Microsoft (7)
On-site link, opens in this window 01/07/02 Microsoft (6)
On-site link, opens in this window 01/06/23 Microsoft (5)
On-site link, opens in this window 01/06/16 Microsoft (4)
On-site link, opens in this window 01/06/12 Microsoft (3)
On-site link, opens in this window 01/06/10 Microsoft (2)
On-site link, opens in this window 01/06/09 Microsoft (1)

With the exceptions listed here, all content © 2001-2004 D9D1E2.COM. Please read the disclaimer, copyright information and terms of use. On this page Transitional HTML 4.01 and CSS 1 are used. If you're seeing this text you either have CSS switched off in your browser, or you're using a browser that can't handle CSS. If you're using an older browser version, you might want to consider upgrading.