Third Voice: One Voice Too Many

1999: Who would have thought that a PC software product could make such waves in the Mac community? But that’s what is happening: The appearance of Third Voice has caused quite a stir, prompting articles, emails, and long threads in various forums.

Third Voice is a plug-in for Internet Explorer, and it is only available for Windows. The plug-in apparently allows users to post comments and links on any website. That’s right – anyone with Third Voice can post comments on any website, and anyone with Third Voice can read what others have posted. According to MacBC, Third Voice places markers in the browser for each page, and the viewer can select a marker and read it. Supposedly, only 25 markers can be seen at a time.

Webmasters have no control over this, aside from adding some scripts which supposedly disable the plug-in. Any comment and any link can be added to their page. Flames, pornography links – anything. I have to say, this is a bit alarming.

Not everyone agrees with me.

Some have said that people have a right to say what they want, and therefore Third Voice is legitimate. I agree that they do have the right to express their views. I think it is great for people to comment on site content. They are entitled to their views and are free to express their views. More power to them, but my website is not the vehicle for their views; it is the vehicle for my views.

If I want everyone else’s comments, I add a forum section or guestbook. If they want to say something about what I have said, they should make their own page and say it, not attach their comments to my page.

Others have said that Third Voice is like buying a book and writing in the margins. A better analogy would be that someone goes to the printing press and adds comments to the margins of your book, which are then seen by every person who buys the book. There is a huge difference between writing in the margins of a book you buy and in marking the copy of a work in such a way that the rest of the public has to see those markings.

If someone prints off my page and writes on it, that would be the same as marking the margins. He would be marking his own “copy” of my work. But to mark it at the point where the public accesses my work is not the same thing, by any stretch of the imagination.

Some claim that Third Voice simply establishes a stronger link to commentary that could already exist on the web. It is already easy to go to a BBS and post comments and even link back to the site you are commenting on. Yet commenting in this fashion does not alter the original site, but incorporates it into the presentation of another site by linking to it. If this is the same as Third Voice, why make Third Voice? Because it’s not the same. Third Voice alters the page’s presentation at the address of the page, not on some “Third” party site you clicked on.

Still, others may say that it’s just the inevitable movement of progress. They herald Third Voice as the next step in internet communication. To them, the technology changes the issue. It’s not the same as demanding to be and getting published in a magazine or newspaper. I would agree to an extent. Technology has changed the issue and made it more complex, but the underlying theme is the same. Say what you want, but don’t force your comments on my site.

A few have latched onto the First Amendment and claim it is a form of expression that should not be regulated. You can’t go the to library and write your ideas in the margins of all the books, can you? Some forms of expression are limited. That is the way it is, and the way it will be. Your form of expression cannot interfere with my property (such as the distribution of copyrighted material.)

But is it a copyright violation? I am not sure about this. As the creator of a copyrighted work, such as a website, I have the right to control the distribution of said work as I see fit. Altering the presentation at the point of distribution (the screen of the viewer in this case) could very well be an infringement. I suspect we shall see what the courts decide.

Perhaps if everyone were mature and civil on the net this would not be a threat. But imagine a child surfing to Disney’s website, her father having installed Third Voice earlier, and at this child-oriented site, there is a Third Voice link to a porn site. She innocently clicks on it and learns more than any kid should. Think it won’t happen? Perhaps you should wake up and smell the degradation around us.

The fundamental difference between this and other forms of communication on the net (forums, discussion groups, email lists, etc.) is that this attaches the comments directly to the site address and is viewed alongside the author’s original work. Add a few Third Voice comments to a site, and suddenly the author’s views are buried beneath conflicting, opposing, or inane commentary. I don’t know about you, but when I write page content, I don’t want that content lost in a sea of commentary. Read my site, then go read other people’s sites, or go to a forum and discuss it. The content of my site should be most important at my address.

It comes down to this: People who care about what they have on their websites don’t like Third Voice. I write about what I feel is important. I present that in a way that I feel helps facilitate the transmission of content. Third Voice, albeit voluntary, adds to that presentation. Add four or five “Third Voice” comments, and where is my content? Is it still the focus of my own web address? I have stuff to say, and the web is a great vehicle for saying it. Other people can say what they want, but no one has the right to clutter my sight, even with less than 25 markers.

Most people pay about $20 a month for internet access, which includes web space, and companies pay more than that. Part of that money includes a web address all my own. I arranged to have that site. I control it. It is mine to do with as I see fit, not as others see fit.

Am I a control freak?

You bet.

When I am talking about something I care about, I want control of content and presentation. If you just have some frivolous site, you probably care nothing about Third Voice. If you care about presentation and content, if you are talking about things that matter to you on your site, you care about Third Voice.

Some people may not care whether someone posts links to porn sites or places objectionable commentary on their site, but I do, and I will do what I can to stop it, including adding scripts to disable the plug-in and alerting others to the problems with this latest instance of “progress”.

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