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Microsoft's smart tag technology can be shut off by web sites with a simple one line meta tag - which is the good news. The bad news is that it appears the tag will have to be added to everything you've already published, so it's a case of updating templates and crunching through the back catalogue.

The tag is:
<meta name="MSSmartTagsPreventParsing" content="TRUE">

It's actually published here, way down the page, but as a number of desperate coders mailed us last week raging that they couldn't find instructions for shutting smart tags off, we suspect it may have been added recently.

But there are also a couple of interesting little snippets in the same section: "Most Smart Tags are added by Smart Tags you have downloaded to your computer. Some sites may not wish to have these Smart Tags show up on their Web pages. These sites can disable Smart Tags, so you may not see them everywhere on the Web."

The first part of that is of course not true right now, because practically the only smart tags in the wild, aside from the odd third party ones downloaded by the even odder crazy person, were installed on your computer by either Office XP or IE6. And if you downloaded OXP you're probably a very naughty boy. But the statement does indicate what Microsoft thinks ought to happen with smart tags - they're going to be great, they're going to rule the world, and all of you just won't be able to get enough of them.

The second part seems to us to suggest that sites who shut off smart tags are miserable control-freaks and spoilsports, but maybe we're being overly sensitive, and we should be kinder to our little friend the smart tag.

What about this though: "After adding this tag [the one above], any Smart Tags that the author has added to the page will continue to work, but Internet Explorer will not dynamically add new tags when users view the page."

If we read that right, then the ability to disable smart tags isn't a blanket disable, but a tool designed (at least partly) for the convenience of Microsoft's smart tag partners. Imagine two travel agents, both of them using smart tags for pretty much the same customer base, leaving much scope for confusion. So we get smart tag coding wars, and turf wars? And we also get the ability to sell third party site smart tagging capabilities as advertising.

You code in the shut off, then you also code in tagging specifically for people who've given you money to do so. Egad - this must have been part of the plan.

But if so, it maybe clashes with one of the other plans a tad. Smart tags as currently presented operate on two levels - the blunt instrument approach currently present in IE6 (later builds, but you can download them for 6 in general here), and the developer approach being pushed through OXP and Microsoft's partner programme.

From the user end (pretend you're convinced, for the moment) you'd use smart tags in order to get further information about subjects you were interested in whenever a company, a sports team or whatever was mentioned on a web site, any web site. Of course if the web site shut tagging off, it wouldn't work for you. So there's a clash.

From the developer/value add perspective, a smart tag supplier would be offering/selling specific tags which were intended to provide the user with specific benefits. Obviously, or the user wouldn't want them.

These tags would be supplied on the basis that the user trusted the supplier, and this is an important aspect of smart tagging. Smart tags, you see, need code running locally in order to work, and we know what code running locally does, don't we? Don't accept smart tags from strange people, children.

But that maybe gives us another clue as to the nature of the shut-off. If smart tags are operating solely as part of a trust relationship between customer and supplier, then that's largely up to the pair of them. Sure, The Register wouldn't get any money from the deal if you bought a smart tag that linked you to faked pictures of Bill Gates in compromising positions every time his name came up, but we'd probably be cool about that.

On the other hand, in what sense would it be possible to run just that smart tag, without being stuck with all of the ones Microsoft ships with IE6 as well? Locally, it's on or off, remotely control is site by site or even page by page. Manipulation beyond that presumably involves the editing of the smart tag data files on the local machine. How easy, one wonders, would it be to do that?

So has Microsoft confused the issue and messed up the rollout by greedily lobbing a big pile of Moneycentral smart tags into IE6? Maybe... ®

Related stories:
Have you been smart tagged? WinXP IE6 has a little list
Smart tagging in Office XP - what Melissa did next?

Reducing security risks from open source software

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