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John finds inspiration in Google’s hijacking of Internet Explorer.

John Gilmore famously said, “the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

A pearl happens when an oyster immunizes itself against a sliver by building a shell around it.

A teen-ager who finds her iPhone just too Apple-friendly-looking puts a Goth skin on it.

A missionary or Java developer civilizes a primitive type by slapping a wrapper on it.

These are all examples of framing. In the social sciences, the concept of framing has been popularized by George Lakoff, who built a career in linguisitics on misinterpreting Noam Chomsky. Anyway, that’s how Chomsky frames Lakoff. Frames are the irrational, emotional filters through which we attempt to inflict a modicum of sense on a senseless universe. Or a pallor of Goth on anything. Anyway, that’s how I frame Lakoff’s framing of frames.

Google got a lot of attention recently by framing Internet Explorer in a particularly clever way.

Back in 1997, Microsoft introduced support for Browser Helper Objects, third-party DLLs that extend Internet Explorer. Google has exploited that technology to hijack the rendering from IE and hand it off to Google Chrome. This has the effect of upgrading IE with the Webkit developer tools, faster JavaScript, and support for HTML 5 features. You’re cruising along in your Model T browser and it starts acting like a Maserati Bora. And in fact it is a Maserati: only the chassis is still intact; the body and engine have been magically replaced.

Microsoft, you can bet, is not happy. But as one blogger points out, Google didn’t hack undocumented APIs or something; they did it the right way, using technology that Microsoft documents and supports.

Pretty sneaky, that.

A couple of points are overlooked in most of the reporting on this: First, this isn’t the first time Google did this to Microsoft: in June, they turned Microsoft Outlook into a platform for accessing Google’s cloud services. And second, it’s not just IE: Google’s ChromeFrameNPAPI plugin should do the same favor for Firefox, Safari, and Opera on Windows. They’re preparing to hijack everybody.

Frames considered harmful

Personally, I think this is pretty cute of Google. I also think it adds flavor to the story that the word “framing” has such deliciously disreputable connotations.

In politics, “framing the issue” means spinning the scandal.

In the underworld, “to be framed” means to be arrested for the wrong crime.

And in technology there’s the little trick where one Website uses HTML frames to incorporate large chunks of another Website, compounding fraud and copyright infringement with design crimes. It’s this connotation of framing that lends Google’s trick a particularly nefarious tone. Website framing was a hot issue when the Web was young, but apparently it’s still a live one, with some of the current culprits being URL shorteners and Facebook and Digg users grabbing other sites and news content and framing it. Good luck to those pushing back against the framers. Once decanted, it’s rare that a genie can be recanted.

My vote for the most nefarious type of frame, though, is the atrocity of HTML frame tags. I’ve read that there are valid uses for frames in HTML, but I’m sure the same could be said for the blink tag. Me, I’m of the Frames Considered Harmful school of thought.

I think the framing meme is a powerful one. You could expand Gilmore’s aphorism, for example, beyond censorship to any attempt to wall off a part of cyberspace. Do good fences make good neighbors or is there just something that doesn't love a wall? The Internet is with Robert Frost on this one. When any technology has become more of a wall than a door, it is asking to be framed.

Given adequate bandwidth, storage, and processing power, any technology can be treated as a sliver to be encapsulated and turned into a pearl. You can virtualize your Mac into a Windows machine, and the Mac OS is really a frame disguising the fact that you’re running a Unix box. Your blog postings can become Tweets and vice-versa, or turn into e-mails, or e-mails can turn into Tweets or blog posts, all with a little framing. So what else could be framed?

My vote is for banks. My bank is located conveniently nearby. I’d like to keep that convenience, but frame the bank with another bank that doesn’t sit on my deposits forever before posting them.

It’s just a thought.

John Shade was born in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1962. Subsequent internment in a series of obscure institutions of ostensibly higher learning did little to enlighten him. He makes a better door than he does a window.