Hoist by my own petard (was Google has del.icio.us tags and RSS feed autodiscovery)

I stumbled over a rather confounding side-effect of the browser-rewriteable web yesterday, posting:

Continuing it’s tradition of throwing in a link to more juicy data or metadata whenever the opportunity presents itself, Google has added del.icio.us tags and straps one of those ubiquitous orange [XML] RSS bugs to every result sporting an RSS feed. …

Click the “info” link associated with a result and you’ll end up on the del.icio.us end of the URL with a listing of just about everything ever said about the link. Click the “tags” link and, through the wonders of Ajax, up pops a list of associated del.icio.us tags. As usual, an ugly-but-functional add-on.

This feature appears, at least by buddy list survey, to be unevenly distributed, so I’ve attached a screenshot below.

As it turns out, this feature is indeed unevenly distributed: to those who’ve installed and summarily forgotten about the annotate google Greasemonkey script for Firefox. I’d installed this and other extensions a week or so back after wiping my Powerbook and installing Tiger; but they’d not worked. Meaning to spend some time debugging, I’d spent some time on the road and not gotten around to it. Yesterday, while fiddling with the zoom textarea script, I upgraded my Greasemonkey extension to 0.3.3. It was only then that the Google annotation effect came into full bloom.

Add to this the confounding effects of my usually using the “I’m Feeling Lucky” feature baked into Firefox — simply type your Google query into the address bar and you’ll end up visiting Google’s top result directly — such that I don’t tend to visit the Google page proper all that often. Also, Google’s habit of weaving new features inconsistently into search results on the way to full deployment means you’ll occasionally see something others don’t, only to have them disappear a few moments later yourself.

This does present an interesting conundrum: as source becomes not only viewable but browser-rewriteable on the fly, how much of what we’re seeing is really on the Web and how much an artifact of augmented Web reality? If I can be hoist by my own petard after knowingly installing a browser extension and (albeit a little later) being surprised by it actually working, how will the less informed end-user adjust? What is the potential here for misuse: perhaps pre-installing Firefox on new machines, outfitted with questionable Greasemonkey extensions in the name of customization and branding. While I’m as much a fan of the writeable and rewriteable Web as anyone (and more than willing to have a laugh at my own expense), is that cute little Greasemonkey in the bottom-right corner of my browser notification enough? (Apparently not.)

(The effect was further compounded by my underestimating the sheer speed of RSS syndication and aggregation. It only took a couple of minutes’s instant messenger discussion with a friend to realize my mistake. Add an additional minute or so to drop the post back into Draft status and start on this version about the monkey’s trickery. Nevertheless, as evidenced by a couple of trackbacks this morning (before re-posting), a couple of RSS readers or aggregators (most likely noticing an auto-ping) ran aground on the transitory post anyway. The moral: on today’s syndicated web, you can’t go draft again.)