posted Jun 21, 2001

A Microsoft opinion on Smart Tags Website Annotation6/21/2001; 12:08:34 PM Dave link's to a Microsoft's employee's opinion on Smart Tags. I wanted to say a couple things.'When you write a piece, when any author writes a piece, he or she is always at a tremendous advantage over the reader. Theoretically at lease, you have at least familiarity if not command of the topic about which you write. The reader most likely does not. That's why they are reading, to learn something, to be exposed to new ideas that you do not yet have or understand.'This is an incredible naive (as in "unsophisticated") view. The writer is also at the mercy of the reader: No reader, no value in writing. And the power stems more from authority then authorship. Despite my familiarity with the topics I write about, my personal attacks on Smart Tags have probably not even registered on Microsoft's detectors, while Dave's obviously have.But there is a deeper and far more pernicious misconception here, one that is one of my core disagreements with the entire annotation crowd: That there is an asymmetry between writer and reader. This is simply untrue. We are all authors. Every e-mail we write, message we post, 'blog we run, all of that makes us into authors. Empowering "the reader" at the expense of "the author"'s expressive power looks good in the abstract, but in the concrete, we are all on the author's side of the relationship as well as the reader. It's a false dichotomy. You are an author.Any asymmetry between "authors" (you) and "readers" (also you) is a toehold that people with power (corporate or government) will use to gain more control (/power). This is why I think annotation for the purposes of increasing the "power" of the "readers" is a sick joke; in reality, it gives those with power the ability to start modifying messages as they see fit. Microsoft merely actualized the potential, the potential is inherent in any Smart Tag/Third Voice annotation system. There is no way to construct an annotation system that will not be co-opted or even subverted to use by the government or powerful corporations.We must defend both the idea and the ideal of the author-reader relationship being peer to peer. Everyone has the right to talk, and everyone has the right to hear no more and no less then what people are saying. Anything else is censorship... even if it's censorship gussied up as additions to content, rather then the usual subtractions. If we do not defend this peer-to-peer model, if we don't defend our integrity, then only those with power will be able to speak unmolested (you can bet anti-Microsoft messages won't show up on on the default install)... and people with power are the last people who need to be protected.Of lesser interest:'To suggest that the author knows best how to write effectively to each individual reader is silly, yet that's what I understand of you position.'What astonishing arrogance there is in the opposite position, that Microsoft knows how to "help" writers reach these individual readers. What astonishing arrogance on the part of Microsoft to claim that they understand us so well that they can insert themselves as in intermediary to help us poor, helpless writers get through to the people we're writing to. It may be true that the writer is ineffective, but I don't trust Microsoft or anyone else to "interpret" a message for a reader; it's utterly impossible for anyone to know exactly what I meant to say.'`Many articles, including yours, accuse smart tags as "re-editing" the work??'I do not understand why annotation supporters often think they can have their cake and eat it too. (If you're a supporter and don't think this, then of course this doesn't apply to you.) Either the content is changed, so the user experiences additional content not placed there by the author, hence "re-editing" the work, or the work is not edited... or in other words, the user experience is unchanged. Labeling the changes "meta-context" as this author does is pure nonsense; "meta-context" is an undefined and I'd say undefinable term.


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