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Size Matters + Slippery Slope = Trouble Ahead

Steve Rubel
Expert Author
Published: 2005-03-21

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This morning I listened to a raging debate between Robert Scoble and Cory Doctorow that you can find ...

here on IT Conversations. During the 46-minute program Doctorow, Scoble, trademark lawyer/blawger Marty Schwimmer debate the ethics and legality of Google's new Toolbar Autolink feature. Regular readers know I feel that Autolink violates the rights of content providers by inserting links they never intended to create.

As I listened to the podcast, two phrases kept repeating in my head: 1) "size matters" and 2) "slippery slope." These two issues underscore why Autolink is such a critical issue that could determine the future direction of online content. Let's take a closer look at each of these.

First, the reason that Google Autolink is important is because "size matters." This isn't just any company changing content. It's a Microsoftesque company with incredible reach and influence, not only on the Web, but increasingly on the desktop too. Just take a gander at the company's recent acquisitions - Keyhole and Picasa. Both are desktop apps. What's more, take a look at the array of free downloadable software applications they are launching. To me this means that Google has Microsoft in its sights. Google's influence in our daily lives will become even bigger when they launch their rumored browser and perhaps build an operating system as well. A Google calendar is already reportedly in the works.

So if you buy into the fact that Google's size gives it influence, then the next step is to consider what might happen if they get away with leaving Autolink as is. That's like letting your kid steal candy. Once they see it's kosher, they will do it again and again until one day they're stealing Chevy's, not Charleston Chews. This is the "slippery slope" that Robert and others have so eloquently written about.

Allowing Google to insert links on ISBN numbers might seem innocent - for now. But what if one day they use a Gbrowser to say to users "Hey, we'll change all your links back to us since you clearly love us so much." On a mass level, this would change the Web forever.

Google needs to show they care about the content producers they depend upon as much as the users by giving us opt outs. If they don't, when you couple their size and the slippery slope, there's no telling what might come next.

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About the Author:
Steve Rubel is a PR strategist with nearly 16 years of public relations, marketing, journalism and communications experience. He currently serves as a Senior Vice President with Edelman, the largest independent global PR firm.

He authors the Micro Persuasion weblog, which tracks how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the public relations practice.

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