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Article by John
People using Microsoft's
Internet Explorer are now being redirected to Microsoft's MSN when they make
certain kinds of mistakes. This means that Microsoft is taking control of
another part of the user experience. This article discusses how Google might
be able to help users and solve a few other problems others along the way.
Blog Speed Ahead
On 29-August-2001 I posted an
entry to WebWord about users
being redirected to Microsoft (i.e., MSN) when they entered misspelled,
unavailable or nonexistent domain names into the Internet Explorer address
bar. Now, fast forward to 5-September-2001. CNET decided to cover the redirection
issue and basically said the same things that WebWord covered 9 days
What does this mean? It means
we got the scoop. We covered this story first, I think before any other
site. If I am wrong, there is still an important point to be made: WebWord
covered the story before CNET. So, at a minimum we scooped CNET. That's
a good feeling.
By the way, the scoop was made
possible by a WebWord reader. I won't claim that I learned about this all by
myself. I thought I saw something funny going on, but I didn't write about
it until a reader sent me an email complaining about it. It only took one
little email. Sometimes I swear that the pulse of the world can be felt
through email, you've just got to know where to put your finger.
Let's get back on track!
So, what do I think about being
redirected to Microsoft when I make a mistake? I hate it. It isn't because I
hate Microsoft and it isn't because I am jealous of their success. Those are
very boring arguments and they don't reflect my feelings and ideas. Instead,
I care because I don't like the fact that I am being hit with Microsoft
advertising. You'll notice that when you make a mistake, and you are
redirected, you will be hit with a pop up ad. Not always, but sometimes.
Enough to be annoying. Why should a company get to throw advertising at
me when I make a mistake? Talk about insult to injury. Second, I don't
trust the results of MSN. Put another way, how do I know that the results on
the MSN search page are not just more advertisements? And, to be frank,
their results aren't that good.
I suppose an argument could be
made that since I am using a free product, I don't have any choice about how
the tool operates. Indeed, I could take care of this entire issue by just downloading
Opera. While this is a an interesting idea, I don't want to see Opera's
advertisements nor do I want to pay for the ad-less version of their
Maybe I will change my mind.
But I rather take another approach. Let's take this as an opportunity to
explore other alternatives. Let's expand our minds.
Where Do Errors Belong?
The error redirection issue has
many faces. The old idea was that if you made a mistake, the browser would
tell you what the server was thinking. If you used the wrong information in
your browser, you would get a message from the server. The server was in
control. In other words, the browser was being treated as a helpless slave
to the server. The browser was dumb.
This idea has been catalyzed in
several ways. For example, there are many tutorials available for webmasters
on how to configure a server so that custom error messages are displayed. Do
you see the game? The browser is stupid, the server is smart. In many ways,
webmasters and server administrators are just acting as server slaves but
that is another issue for another time. The point is that old paradigm was
that servers created and controlled errors whereas browsers were simply
responsible for dishing up that information to users. Bottom line: browsers are dumb
terminals for web servers.
Well, guess what. Microsoft
doesn't control very many web servers. They aren't even close to dominating
the server market. However, they do control browser software. They know that
they are close to having a browser monopoly. They are flexing their muscles.
Instead of letting servers control the user experience, they are using the
browser to control the user experience.
So, where do errors belong? On
the server or on the client? The answer is interesting. The answer is that
errors belong to users. Let me clarify. Users don't cause the errors, but
they do own them. They should have the ability to choose how errors are
handled. They should be able to choose the language that makes sense to
them. Users should determine if they see "Page not found" or
"Error 404" or something else. It would be even better if they
didn't choose the error language but if it was simply decided for them based
on a transparent mechanism. I'm falling off topic again. I'll save that topic
for another day.
Just Like SmartTags
Do you see how browser
redirection is very much analogous to SmartTags? Don't be fooled. Think
about this. With both SmartTags and the error redirection, Microsoft is
using its technology monopoly to control your experience. Of course it
isn't exactly a good analogy because it doesn't involve publishers and
content. Another thing is that the error redirection is much more subtle.
But the core idea is the same: Microsoft technology is being used to
manipulate the user experience under the guise of helping people.
It is interesting that people
aren't being more wise to this issue. Microsoft has shifted power from
the server to the browser. Subtle move, yet so powerful. This is yet
another instance of M
Cubed (i.e., Microsoft Marketing Magic). They throw the frogs in the
warm, comfortable water and then slowly turn up the heat. We are the frogs
and we never feel the change. The water boils and we cook.
The Google Client
Let's argue for a moment that
errors do indeed belong on the client. Why should we be slaves to Microsoft
technology? Where is the choice? Why can't I choose to be redirected to a
trusted error checking source?
What am I talking about? Well,
have you ever mistyped something in the Google search engine? Did you notice
that they give you very reasonable results and they provide you with an
alternative spelling? For example, if I do a Google
search of speel (deliberately misspelled), Google will ask me if I meant
to search for spell (the correct spelling).
Do you see what I am getting
at? Instead of being redirected to Microsoft, why can't I simply be
redirected to Google when I make a mistake? I trust them, and their
interface is highly usable. They also give me the useful alternative results
I just described. You gotta love that.
As a user I can go into the
Internet Explorer search tool and change the settings. However, the settings
are predefined, therefore they are not fully configurable. In other words,
don't bother telling me that I don't have to be redirected to MSN. Please
don't tell me that I have reasonable choices. I don't! First, the search
functionality in the IE browser isn't actually configurable so I don't have
total control. Second, it isn't super easy and intuitive. It doesn't pass
the grandmother test. That is, could your grandmother easily do it? In most
cases, no. Third, it locks out smaller sites. It locks out independent
sites. It locks out sites that are not literally search engines. It locks
Let me take one step back. A
while ago Dave Winer talked about how Google
has been slowly upgrading the web. The basic idea is that Google keeps
improving their search engine but they also keep improving their company.
The entire web benefits. When you take a look at all the things Google is
doing, the list is
Now, let's talk about the Google
toolbar. What if I installed it and it shanghaied
the browser when errors were made? Wouldn't that be interesting. It would
take power away from Microsoft and it would direct you to Google so that you
could capitalize on their services. That would be a sweet move by
But, that isn't good enough. We
need to keep thinking outside the proverbial box, remember? What if
instead Google built a super simple web browser. Pow! There is a killer
The more important idea is much
more subtle. Think about how you use your web browser. You probably think
that you are just visiting web pages. However, what you are really doing is
searching for information, buying things, listening to music, downloading
tools, and so forth. Just as the web is not the internet, the browser is not
That is a powerful idea. Think
about it. The browser is not the web.
What if Google built something
that was very much like a browser but was mainly used for searching for
information. What if they built a tool that was focused on searching for
answers to your questions first, and looking at web pages second. Wrap your
head around that.
You have search needs. You also
have unique search patterns. You have ways of looking for information that
are very interesting and personal. Where are the tools that help you search?
You are probably thinking of search engines, like Google. But search engines
are server based. Why not bring the power of the server to the desktop?
There are some tools out there like this, but they aren't complete. They
also don't have the usability and brand recognition of Google.
We need something beyond a
Google toolbar and Google search engine. We need a Google client. Are you
with me on this?
Now, this might happen via a
partnership. It happen by merging Google with tools like Opera.
Or Greymatter. Or Jabber.
Or Radio Userland. You see where I
am going? We should encourage user-driven companies to build us new tools. A
Google client would be about searching and information hunting first, and
web pages second.
Let's keep pushing the idea.
The Google client might even be
a sweet layer of technology on top of Microsoft's operating system. Yes, you
are getting the vibes. I'm saying that a Google client might almost function
like an operating system over Microsoft Windows. The Google client might
shanghai the entire Microsoft desktop. Over the top! Wouldn't that be
sweet? It would ride on top and hide the ugly parts of the operating system
yet it would let through the appropriate technology, just for you. Just what
Google understands usability
and elegant technology. I think they could do it with some help.
So, the ideas are
pie-in-the-sky. So what? That is exactly my point. Digest the ideas.
Complain about them. Tell me I am wrong. That's all find and dandy. However,
let's talk about what ideas do make sense. Think beyond the current
technologies. Think beyond Microsoft. Think about how you can take back
control of your experiences.
Want some more advice? Want
another idea? I suggest that you contact Google and tell them what you
think. If you like my idea of a Google web browser or Google client, tell
them about it. Tell them about this article. Who knows, if enough people
ask for Google 2.0 we might just make it happen.
By the way, consider if you
would be willing to pay for Google 2.0. Would you pay for it if was amazing?
I know that I would.