Subject: Re: MSIE "Smart Tags" -- what's the real deal?
From: Ian Lance Taylor <>
Date: 12 Jun 2001 13:38:21 -0700

Glen Starchman <> writes:

> On Tue, 12 Jun 2001, Ian Lance Taylor wrote:
> > Don Marti <> writes:
> > 
> > > > Most of the people complaining about Smart Tags are focusing on how it
> > > > subverts the relationship between a Web surfer and a Web author when
> > > > they are working for separate organizations.
> > > 
> > > Everything interesting that ever happens on the web happens because
> > > someone subverts the relationship between a web surfer and a web
> > > author.  Without subversion, the Web would be like fax-on-demand,
> > > only faster.
> > 
> > Well, yes.  Why is that bad?  My personal web pages says what I
> > personally want them to say.  They are intended to convey a particular
> > set of information when viewed by a web browser.  It's OK with me if
> > somebody uses a third party annotation service when it is clear that
> > that is what they are doing.  It is not OK with me if the web browser
> > itself changes the presentation.  It breaks the implied contract I was
> > expecting when I created the web pages.  It makes me say something
> > other than what I intended.
> When you author a book, for example, the reader is allowed to modify
> its contents in whatever way they deem desirable within their
> imagination. Your "intent" as the author is nearly meaningless, unless
> the reader shares the same views as you do. Likewise if you produce and
> air a television program. Considering that the WWW tends to be a forum
> very similar to both printed and televised materials, this so-called
> implied contract you speak of has little merit. Would you be offended
> if a reader of the Autoconf book you wrote crossed out a few words,
> made notes in the margins,  even tore out some pages and rearranged
> them? Maybe, but there is really nothing you can do about it.
> What about if Cliff's Notes did an annotated version of your book? That
> seems to be to be a reasonable approximation of the sticky tags in web
> pages. It's a tool that while not completely sanctioned by the author,
> helps the user comprehend (and hopefully enjoy) your work.

I said above ``it's OK with me if somebody uses a third party
annotation service when it is clear that that is what they are
doing.''  I certainly think that your examples of a user editing a
personal copy of a book, or a Cliff's Notes annotation fit this
criteria.  They are OK with me.

That's not what is going on with smart tags.  The user is not marking
up her or his personal copy of my web page.  There is no clear
annotator at work.

I think that Internet Explorer, which has massive market share, is
much more akin to a publisher.  There are standards which govern the
display of web pages.  Internet Explorer should adhere to those
standards by default.  When it does not, I believe it is betraying
both my wishes as an author and the best interests of the consumer.

I suppose that I am essentially saying that since Microsoft has a
monopoly position with respect to web browsers, they have a
responsibility to ensure that their web browser behaves appropriately.
Unfortunately, it is clear from the antitrust case that Microsoft does
not behave responsibly in this regard.

> MS doesn't always create bad products. I am not implying that you, Ian,
> in particular, have your opinion of Smart Tags because of this, but way
> too many people in the FS movement tend to view anything that comes out
> of a proprietary company to be worthless. Part of the reason that MS
> has been so successful has to do with the fact that they at least make
> an attempt to make it easier for the *end user* to use certain software
> services. While I am not going to support their corporate directives
> and business practices, I cannot deny the fact that people (eg,
> uneducated end users) *love* MS products because they are easy to use.
> Until there are offerings from the FS community that are stable and
> useable enough to deploy massively across the desktop, and users are
> able to use them without  recompiling their kernel, or building it from
> source, or downloading 50 different libraries, bad-mouthing MS from a
> technology perspective is nothing more than a software case of penis
> envy.

I completely agree that Microsoft makes it easier for end users to use
software.  I believe that some people bad-mouth anything that
Microsoft does on principle.  However, I am not personally one of
those people.

I bad-mouth Microsoft technology when it is bad: e.g., the Win32 API.
I appreciate Microsoft technology when it is good: e.g., Internet
Explorer.  I am disturbed by Microsoft technology when I believe that
it is ill-conceived and will have a bad effect on the Internet: e.g.,
smart tags.

I have to say that I don't even understand why you bring this topic up
in this context.  I didn't say anything about whether the software was
poorly written or hard to use.  I said it had a bad effect.  How you
get from there to software penis envy, I don't know.