I’m tired of reading articles that say things like “Microsoft will start inserting links into pages where there were never intended to be links in the first place” in regards to Smart Tags. Now that Microsoft has decided not to ship IE Smart Tags in Windows XP, the arrogance of iron-fisted web designers is getting even more bothershome.
The goal of Smart Tags was to provide a way for users to download extensions to their browser’s rendering engine, allowing for more pervasive hyperlinking. It’s just that simple. Not “inserting links into pages where there were never intended to be links” but, more accurately, “providing a way for corporations to add additional links to the sites their users were already browsing.”
There are two reasons for the backlash, basically. The one that I’ve been harping on the most is the paranoia and ego of designers. (“Alas and Alack! Now I can’t dictate the color of certain link underlines! And people will be able to go where the software they download links them to!”) I harp on this because it frustrates me that these attitudes caused this credible attempt at a richer hyperlinking method to be pulled.
The other reason, which I’ve admittedly given short shrift to, is Microsoft’s usual arrogance, which engendered the attitudes that left people looking for something to take offense to. What amazes me is that Microsofties are so short-sighted and unaware that they can’t anticipate these kinds of reactions. If they had merely said, “Hey, web developers, here’s an easy way to provide richer hyperlinks!” they might not have faced such resistance.
Note to all the people who complained about these things: I have heard rumors (which I’m quite sure are apocryphyal, but still serve to illustrate my point) of a quickly-hacked version of Mozilla, in which the rendering was tweaked so that every word was a hyperlink to its respective Google search, unless it already had a hyperlink around it. Granted, it’d be dog-slow. But it might do a good job of helping designers remember how a user agent is supposed to have control over the rendering of an HTML document.
Let’s say that again: a user agent is supposed to have control over the rendering of an HTML document. There may be another web where I don’t have that level of control, and things like a browser extension to highlight text on the screen don’t work. But I like those kinds of tools, and I don’t want any site’s designer to be able to turn them off, any more than I want the RIAA making CDs that I can’t rip to my hard drive.