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Netscape Smart Browsing Available, Debated

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Netscape Smart Browsing Available, Debated

From The Search Engine Report
August 4, 1998

Netscape Communicator 4.5, which has much discussed "smart browsing" features to aid searchers, is now available for download as a beta release.

Shortly after the release, one site owner raised a ruckus when he discovered the change meant those entering "scripting" were no longer taken to his "scripting.com" web site. Instead, they went to a section within the Netscape site.

See the articles below for more details on the dispute. I especially enjoyed the Wired article, where the Electronic Frontier Foundation implies that Netscape is somehow redirecting people without permission.

It's a rather absurd statement, akin to blaming the phone company for when you dial the wrong number. This is because someone entering "scripting" into a browser is not entering a valid web address. Who's to say what they wanted to reach?

Yes, the latest browsers have tried to guess at the correct address for those doing this, which means first trying scripting.com, then trying other top level domains. But it could be argued that this isn't necessarily fair. Why should scripting.edu, scripting.net or even scripting.co.uk be denied a fair shot at the user? What happens if new top level domains such as .web come into being. Should they be secondary to .com?

Netscape can make a very good argument that its changes are even more user friendly than the old system of guessing at domains, because it is likely to better guide users to specific web sites. Whitehouse.org is a perfect example. Without Smart Browsing, enter "whitehouse," and Netscape guesses at whitehouse.com. I'm sure the porn site that appears is not what most people expect.

True, there are possible legal issues involved, such as what happens when trademarks are entered, and serious ethical ones about how to handle generic terms. But it's unfair to say, as the EFF did in the Wired article, that Netscape has taken over a user's preference through Smart Browsing. Users have never set configured Netscape to guess at web addresses by selecting this as preference.

The original functionality of giving Netscape a partial address was for it to fail to locate any site. Then Netscape tried to be more user friendly by guessing at the correct address. Now it is trying again to be more user friendly by guessing at the correct site in a new way.

By the way, if you don't like Smart Browsing, it's easy to turn it off. Go to menu, choose Edit, choose Preferences, open the Navigator section and select Smart Browsing. On the panel that appears, down at the bottom, uncheck the box that says "Enable Internet Keywords."

Netscape Communicator 4.5 Download
http://www.netscape.com/download/prev.html

The Next Net Name Battle
Wired, July 20, 1998
http://www.wired.com/news/news/technology/story/13820.html

Smart browser or dumb idea?
News.com, July 20, 1998
http://news.com/News/Item/0,4,24400,00.html

Smart Browsers Ease Searching
The Search Engine Report, July 1, 1998
http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/9807-browsers.html

Explains how Smart Browsing works in Netscape, and how similar features operate with Microsoft.

Internet Keywords Patent Spat
Wired, July 22, 1998
http://www.wired.com/news/news/technology/story/13892.html

Centraal, which runs the RealNames keyword system, has been sued for patent infringement by competitor Netword. And bad news for Centraal's system could have an impact on Netscape's.


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