I’ve encountered a couple of instances recently where I was pulled out of my browsing-path by web-services that are usually forgotten. The first was while doing a morning lecture at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I simply Googled something while talking. (I like the openendedness of lecturing with a browser opposed to the linear pathway PowerPoint encourages.) — My fluid thought-chasing was interrupted when I was redirected to a captcha on Google… “We’re Sorry, but your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application.” I found it funny at the time, but it started to bug me after lunch.
I wasn’t bothered by Google attempting to defend itself from script kiddies, or whatever. The incident made me consider all of the intermediaries we pass through while traversing the web. Many of these intermediaries are hidden, systemically encouraged, and potentially detrimental to the openness of which the web blossomed.
Joshua Schachter has a great blog post on url shorteners. These services (specifically URL shortners) have gained much popularity as of late and insert themselves into the user’s path. This gives them the capability to rank, track, hijack, or even lose the link.
Aside from the creepy economy of surveying users, I am most concerned with the last possibility. One can imagine what would happen to the value of information on Twitter if TinyURL disappered — or if advertisements were directly inserted into your non-domain-based browsing path?