Overall, I think the feature is just bad. It opens the door to other utilities modifying content, such that the end user can no longer determine whether he is seeing the original publisher’s information or not. Further, with so many content providers needing to fund their content through online advertising, it can easily break the model for everyone.
Google claims they want to “help users”. We all agree that end-user benefits are worth fighting for. But, if we undermine the needs of the publishers such that they can no longer provide content, then have we helped end users? Obviously not.
There is already an ability for content publishers to instruct Google’s robot to not index a page. This is done by the publisher adding a tag in their content which looks like:
We could do the same for toolbars with a new meta tag.
This way, for pages which are generic web pages, Google and others can markup the text and provide “end user benefit”. But for pages that are from a publisher that needs to avoid markup, the publisher can use this tag.
An alternative would be to make it opt-in instead of opt-out, but I suspect that toolbar writers would agree that this is a non starter, because there is so much content out there that wouldn’t be updated for allowing markup.
Overall, I’m not really a big fan of this comprimise either. When we view a web page, its nice to know where the content comes from. Having markup/autolink being done from all sorts of tools is going to muddy the waters. It also makes it so that two people viewing the same page may not see the same content!
Lets just continue to banish all products that try to do this. The end user benefit is minimal.