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-Smart Tags- can steal customers from your web site.

Here's what you need to know about the new Windows XP � from Microsoft.


The following article was written in the weeks preceding the official release of Microsoft's "XP �*" operating system. It is now "technically" out of date. The issues discussed here were industry concerns during -beta testing-. The furor created caused XP � to be released without this feature enabled. We've left this article in the newsletter archives as a reminder that many software products are released with "hidden" or undisclosed features. Your only defense seems to be diligence. Ours is industry -peer pressure-.
UPDATE: Quickly after the mid-2001 release date, "better" tracking and customer/traffic monitoring tools became available, operating in "stealth-mode", so the web-surfers of today are not immediately aware of their placement.

    The introduction of Windows XP � from Microsoft, will bring the usual discussions of cost and benefits. We will also see a mixture of rave reviews, as well as some complaining, negative press. This happens with each new -OS- (operating system) introduction. Buried deep in the news about XP � will be discussions about a new feature called -SmartTags-. These new pieces of software code have many functions. As the owner of a web site, you should be most interested in how these -SmartTags- can steal visitors and customers directly from your web pages. 

    Lets look at how these tags will function, then discuss solutions. To best explain how this functionality will work in the new Windows XP �, we need a victim. You and I have decided to go into business. Your mother makes the best turtle soup. We are going to use her recipe from "the old country", and sell turtle soup on the internet. We do everything needed to get our web site up and running, just as we designed it. Maybe we sell advertising links or just trade links with friends, but it�s a look, design and business choice we make. The key point is that we control what links, if any go to any other web sites. 

    How can the folks in Redmond steal our customers? They will use a little discussed feature, integrated into Windows XP �. If Microsoft, or one of their advertising partners, wants to attract visitors related to any use of the word "turtle", we are in trouble. These -SmartTags- can put a click-able icon next to every use of that word, on OUR WEB PAGES. 

    How can they do that?? In our example web site, text on the page would look like this. 

   this is your site

    Web surfers using the new "XP �*" operating system could see the very same page displayed this way. 

   this is your site on smart tags

    In the real world, That means anyone who visits our example web site could see one of these links, click on it, and be taken away to another web page. These are links we didn�t plan or design, added by browsers we can�t control, linking to web pages chosen by Microsoft or it�s paying advertisers. Your web page visitor or potential customer has been stolen! This will become an increasingly larger threat, as "XP �*"�s usage rates climb. As webmasters, the statistics we watch on our servers will show a sad truth. The average length of time a visitors stays on a web page will go down dramatically as these tags become supported by more and more web surfers. If our web site is full of links we can�t control, it will be increasingly difficult to sell our soup. Wait, it gets even worse. 

    What most retail buyers won�t know, and all webmasters are beginning to hear, is that Office XP � already supports -SmartTags-. Anyone that has Office "XP �*" installed can see the tags now. As this new version of Office gets a larger and larger installed base, the seriousness of this threat will grow exponentially. There is also some discussion about whether Microsoft�s I.E. 6.0 will recognize the tags independent of Office XP �. If it does, the spread of this effect will be greatly increased., as "legacy" users just upgrade to the new browser, without purchasing the new complete "OS". In fairness, there are others using this technology too, most notably NBCi�s web site. Microsoft has announced that the new -SmartTags- will be removed from Windows XP �, or set to "off" as the default choice. This is an evolving issue. This was done, apparently, to allay the fears of webmasters across the globe and keep the "buzz" positive to build early sales momentum. I am reading articles in some tech and industry magazines that say that the threat is gone. I wish it were.

    The good news is that there is a relatively simple way to defeat these -SmartTags-. VectorInter.Net will make the HTML codes available to you. All you need to do is ask. If you are a webmaster or web page designer, just E-mail me or contact any VectorInter.Net office. If you are a non-technical company executive, link this newsletter to your IT Chief. My advice is to use these meta tag codes on every single one of your pages. 

    My problem with this entire situation is two fold. First, why should anyone be allowed to put content, links, or advertising on MY web pages, without my permission or control? This lack of control in page content is one of several reasons why I dislike the free web hosting services available. Do you really want someone else selecting the advertising displayed on your web pages?
    Secondly, why should web site owners worldwide, be required to accept the expense of paying webmasters and page designers to add additional code. You should not have to re-engineer your entire web site, so that it operates the way you chose in the first place. Some companies have literally thousands of web pages in their networks around the world. It will be an incredible expense to edit every single one by hand. Furthermore, we have no assurance that the HTML code tag we are using and recommending, today, will always work. Microsoft can hide/bury work-arounds inside patches and updates at any time. In the first year of the Windows XP � introduction, they are not motivated to defeat the current blocking of this intrusive bit of code. It would not bode well for their current anti-trust case, and other issues in the courts. Let�s hope web site owners don�t have to wait for the courts to settle this matter, too. Just look at the "relief" Netscape has received from the USA Justice Department. Microsoft can be stealing your web page visitors and your customers very soon. It�s time to protect yourself. Get it done, right now. 

You can read more about "How web hosting works" or "How to avoid bugs, worms and viruses."
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