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The boundaries were crossed a while ago

Remember banner ads? You know, those cute little 486x60 GIF files that helpfully displayed some advertisement that you may have been marginally interested in seeing? They’re an endangered species now. When’s the last time you encountered an actual GIF or JPEG banner in the wild, thoughtfully placed somewhere on the edge of a site's content?

Things have most certainly changed since then; the ads we see today are so much more sophisticated (annoying) than the quaint times of old.

A few years ago, the online advertising landscape started to take a different, far more disruptive turn, and for a lot of people the change came suddenly. I remember my first experience with this wild, wooly world of ads with the same clarity that one might remember their their first kiss, or a first encounter with that revolting internet image-meme-whose name-shall-not-be-mentioned: reading a review on Gamespy, a floating ad appears – it's a picture of some college kid, hanging onto a piece of telephone cord for dear life, rappelling down my browser. 

After descending halfway, he stops and instead begins dangling around the center of my screen, holding on for dear life. More importantly, he was blocking the text I was reading.

“What the?” I remember thinking, “Who is this kid, how’d be rappel down in front of my text, and why is he here in the first place?”

I knew, right then, that it was the beginning of the end. You see, somewhere around that time, someone figured out how to make a Flash file jump out of its cleverly-defined container and run amok around your browser. So what happened then? Advertisers jumped on it, and immediately began cranking out banner ads that broke through all manner of bounding boxes and other arbitrary constraints. In a relatively short amount of time, movie trailers gained the ability to truly jump out at you – movie advertisements seem to be the most notorious for this, by my count – and browsing became so perilous that mousing in the wrong spot resulted in the forfeiture of half your screen’s real estate.

Meanwhile, behavioral tracking systems become more and more sophisticated. We’re way past the days of simple context-sensitive text-based advertising in Gmail and AdSense; “ehavioral” tracking now builds complex profiles, gathering data from numerous sources. Sometimes it's your surfing history, or personal preferences, or shopping habits, or even the contents of your accounts with web-based email or other services.

As a result, ads have achieved a creppy level of intelligent, and become sophisticated enough to hide that smarts with subtlety.

Case in point: social-networking giant Facebook “is expected” to announce a change in their advertising policy that would build ad profiles based on the contents of your account, which it would then insert ads into. Friends, interests, favorite bands; all of these things will be are said to be used in this new scheme. Another example: 24/7 Real Media, a world-wide advertising network, has experimented with cross-linking ad databases with geographic addresses.

How far are we away from some company successfully selling a universal profiling database composited from the databases of lesser networks? Are we already there? How many of us really want that? And what of those who don’t? 

Now, mind you, I’m not against advertising, and unfortunately we all know that yesteryear's advertising model – the glory days of the humble animated GIF – is simply unsustainable. It’s fine that marketers need to keep up with the times and the revenue models of today’s internet, but do they always have to be in my face about it? Whatever happened to the idea of personal privacy, of reverence and a sense of you-just-don’t-go-there? Whatever happened to respect for the people you attempt to “spread your message” to?

Many of us feel that advertising has simply gone too far. Luckily, at least a few of the people at the FTC are in this group, and recently they held an FTC Town Hall meeting titled, “Ehavioral Advertising: Tracking, Targeting, & Technology.”

While reports on the summit seem to be in short supply, a little bit of Google-fu reveals that a lot of the big players in search, advertising, and technology showed up: Google, Microsoft, and eBay, among other “various policy groups and big companies.” The event seems to have gone down with a minimum of fuss, and the FTC’s stance could be best summed up by Comissioner Jon Leibowitz, who told attendees that “the current 'don't ask, don't tell' mentality in online profile tracking needs to end.”

Among many of the interesting finds, eBay demonstrated its new AdChoice program for users, which uses “more progressive consumer control techniques,” and provides finer-grained information and control of how a given user is shown a particular ad – users can even choose to opt out of the program’s behavioral tracking in favor of more generic advertising.

In another speech, Lorrie Cramer of Carnegie Mellon University referred to a recent study her group conducted: consumers, if given a choice, are willing to pay more for increased privacy in their purchases.

Many consumer advocates pushed for standardization and disclosures in online advertising that’s used in conjunction with behavioral tracking, and many of these same people want to force advertisers to provide an option for users to opt out of these systems. A do-not-track list was also proposed, constructed in a similar vein as the do-not-call list distributed to telemarketers around the U.S.

On the other side of the debate, advertisers and marketers worried that federal regulations could have serious repercussions on the advertising industry’s current success, and possibly “take the boom out of online ads.” These same groups also noted there just isn’t enough room to fit in all these various disclosures in the limited ad-space they have, and that they may actually end up ruining the experience over the long run.

While the FTC hasn’t made any binding moves on the matter, it seems that it is certainly preparing to do so. Advertisers consider yourself on notice: stop collecting users’ data, and give them easy-to-understand controls on what you’re doing with it, or else.

Unfortunately, my complaints of disruptive, annoying ads still seem to be falling on deaf ears – but that’s OK, as we surfers have tools to remedy them. What we don't have, however, are tools to mute the ads with sound.

AdSoundBlock, anyone?



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Rather doubtful
By masher2 (blog) on 11/18/2007 12:22:44 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Lorrie Cramer of Carnegie Mellon University referred to a recent study her group conducted: consumers, if given a choice, are willing to pay more for increased privacy in their purchases...
Correction: people, when asked by a surveyor, claim they're willing to pay more to protect their privacy.

When it comes to making the actual purchase, though, 9 out of 10 go for the lowest price, period.




RE: Rather doubtful
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 11/18/2007 2:33:55 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
When it comes to making the actual purchase, though, 9 out of 10 go for the lowest price, period.

To some extent I agree with you, but if that was completely true, companies like Apple wouldn't exist today.


RE: Rather doubtful
By SavagePotato on 11/18/2007 3:04:26 PM , Rating: 3
Apple is less than 10% of the market share, statisticaly more than 9 out of 10 people don't go with Apple.

Apple on the other hand proves that even consumer products can have fans in the same way a celebrity does.


RE: Rather doubtful
By Kougar on 11/18/2007 8:01:49 PM , Rating: 2
Market share of what , you failed to quantify.

I must agree with Kristopher, Apple is a good case in point against the assumption that "9 out of 10 people flock towards the best value or price." If statistics are accurate more like 3 out of every 4 people will pay more for the status/brand name of an Apple iPod over a better or cheaper alternative, and have been doing so for the last half-dozen years.

It's been over six years since Apple started the iPod brand, and for most of that period its been easy to buy non-iPod players that do more, offer more features, and cost less per MB/GB than an iPod. Nonetheless in 2004 Apple still had around 84% of the market, in 2006 that figure was still above 75%. Today I am fairly sure the figure is still above 70% even though Apple's competitors are offering better alternatives today than they ever were previously.


RE: Rather doubtful
By SavagePotato on 11/19/2007 9:44:05 AM , Rating: 2
The Mp3 player market is a bit of an anomaly. The reason is most likely because these are still relatively low ticket items. 150-400$ for a perceived status symbol still bodes well for some.

There is no accounting for fads, and that describes the ipod in a nutshell, a fad.

People were not lining up to pay for the status symbol of a ps3 at $599 as Sony sugguested they might("people will just work extra hours to get one, it's a ps3")

I think the point is reality varies wildly from statistics like the one quoted.


RE: Rather doubtful
By Kougar on 11/24/2007 4:25:25 AM , Rating: 2
The problem with calling it a fad is that a fad is a passing phenomenon. The iPod has not only stuck around for 6 years but created an industry and everything from iPod phones to iPod video players and iPod photo viewers, and is now stronger than ever.

The PS3 was more than just priced a little higher than the competition, and didn't seem to have anything going for it besides Blu-ray and a overkill CPU. But most of all it never was a status symbol or a culture icon with all the associated meanings that the iPod jumped into, with its higher prices and all.


RE: Rather doubtful
By s12033722 on 11/19/2007 11:55:10 AM , Rating: 2
I'd get an ipod over another player (I currently do not own one) because I do have several hundred tracks purchased from iTunes. I got iTunes when it first came out because it was the best solution for me at the time for purchasing music. I never buy CDs anymore. All my music purchases over the last couple years have been with iTunes. Therefore, when I get an MP3 player, it will be an iPod for ease of use. If it wasn't for iTunes, I wouldn't consider an iPod.


RE: Rather doubtful
By ksherman on 11/19/2007 2:36:07 PM , Rating: 2
And speaking to their computer division, true Apple has maybe a 10% market share (probably a little on the high side), but they are out selling their competition as of late. If market shares were only based on the last 2 years, Apple's would be a darn bit higher than 10%; they are competing to retake YEARS of lost ground and doing a remarkable job at it!

But yes, Apple is a good example of people paying a premium for something that is (by many people's standards, not for everyone) a superior product (regardless of whether it actually is or not).


My experiences
By 3kliksphilip on 11/17/2007 5:18:05 PM , Rating: 3
The one I remember most was from a mosquito you 'had' to swat. I was listening to some fairly loud music at the time and when the page loaded I was almost deafened by a low-quality buzzing sound which made me alt f4 the browser in disgust. I ended up f5ing the page repeatedly until another, less noisy one, came up every time I browsed various websites. Those ads which make a sound when you move the mouse over are also really annoying. HELLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOO... SAY something (etc)

With Kaspersky Internet Security I don't have a problem- it's only when I quit it when the ads become a nuisence. I didn't even think of the spam filtering when I bought it, but it's ended up being one of the most useful features.




RE: My experiences
By Scabies on 11/18/2007 11:48:00 AM , Rating: 3
OMIGOD! NO WAY!
The next generation of smilies. Must be shot.


RE: My experiences
By jtok202 on 11/19/2007 12:58:52 PM , Rating: 2
People do hold some sway in what ads are propogated long term as those that are truly annoying will receive less clicks per a serve. Secondly sites that incorporate large loud and annoying adds, lose my business because of the annoyance. Sites like Dailytech are a good example of well placed, unobtrusive, and appropriately targeted ads this is one of the reason that google as a add service has always made sense to me is that they are not annoying.
Flash block no script adblock and Grease monkey = pownage on ads.


akamai and others are the real problem
By GeorgeOrwell on 11/18/2007 1:27:24 AM , Rating: 2
Between using a web proxy with a good set of block lists, Firefox + Flashblock, and turning off Java, there are very few ads that get through.

The real privacy problem is not ads, but content spyware providers such as Akamai and protocol proxy spyware providers such as Savvis.

Akamai builds a giant database of who is visiting all the popular sites and what they look at. Savvis does the same thing, but via proxies on the backbone. ATT probably does the same thing given that they give a copy of their entire feed to the NSA (who then gives it to Mossad and others).

Either way, the consumer has little privacy even without ads.




RE: akamai and others are the real problem
By Hare on 11/18/2007 3:14:00 PM , Rating: 2
java != javascript :)


By Flunk on 11/18/2007 5:39:17 PM , Rating: 2
activescript == javascript


"AdSoundBlock, anyone?"
By DandDAddict on 11/19/2007 5:43:48 AM , Rating: 2
I might be the only IE7 user left in existance but you can tell IE to not play sounds in the media checkboxes and all those annoying sounds vanish. Dont know if you can do that in firefox but it wouldnt suprise me if you could and if you cant some one needs to poke them into putting that in.




RE: "AdSoundBlock, anyone?"
By DandDAddict on 11/19/2007 5:46:37 AM , Rating: 2
Also and after thought. If youre using Vista you can just open up the volume manager and tell it not to alow FF/IE/Opera and whatever other programs you dont want making noise to make noise.


RE: "AdSoundBlock, anyone?"
By ksherman on 11/19/2007 2:38:20 PM , Rating: 2
One of the only features of Vista that got me to raise an eyebrow. GREAT feature.


flashblock
By soydios on 11/17/2007 7:28:48 PM , Rating: 3
I highly recommend that everyone download the Flashblock plugin for Firefox. It blocks ALL flash, unless the page or domain is on a user-created whitelist. To see a flash file, simply click on the specific one you want to see.

In my experience, it has worked flawlessly, and is unobtrusive. The full-screen floating text-covering ads are even blocked with a transparent box, though you must activate and then close them in order to click anything underneath.




Adblock
By Hare on 11/18/2007 3:50:22 AM , Rating: 2
That's one extension I can't live without.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adblock

It's a shame that there are many sites that rely solely on ad revenues but I'm forced to block the ads because they are so friggin annoying. I would like to support these sites and wouldn't mind looking at a few ads if only they were made with even a hint of taste. Most of the ads just drive me mad and I'm forced to block them if I want to browse the site without screaming. The worst ones are the loud and blinking ads. It seems I've missed the "moving" ads thanks to adblock (I haven't seen an ad for ages).

I think there has been a study saying that people got angy when seeing blinking and beeping ads and even though the ads were definately noticed more often the reaction was something that the advertiser didn't want...




By SavagePotato on 11/18/2007 3:08:34 PM , Rating: 2
I would realy have to question the usefulness of the super anoying mouse over blocker ad's. I can't offhand think of the contents of even one of them. I never got that far to actualy read it. Usualy it just involves cursing and closing the window, or skipping the ad on the realy pain in the ass full page ones(IGN).




The ideal ad
By AlexWade on 11/18/2007 4:15:04 PM , Rating: 2
Google ads are the most ideal. They are simple, unobtrusive, and plain text. That means that pages with them don't take forever to load. I pay attention to Google ads; I ignore everything else. In fact, I have Trend Micro Internet Security to block these ads. But I always let Google ads through.

We are inundated with ads. We ignore them because they are everywhere. Thus advertisers get more desperate. If they would get rid of so many ads and make them less annoying, they will be far more effective.




I really hate text-blocking ads
By BMFPitt on 11/18/2007 5:19:13 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
reading a review on Gamespy, a floating ad appears – it's a picture of some college kid, hanging onto a piece of telephone cord for dear life, rappelling down my browser.

After descending halfway, he stops and instead begins dangling around the center of my screen, holding on for dear life. More importantly, he was blocking the text I was reading.
I'd really love to seek out the marketing heads at companies who create these types of ads and kick them in the throat. But currently I have to settle for sending them emails from an account created only for that purpose, informing them that I will do my best to run them out of business. If I saw that type of ad for something I was going to buy anyway, I wouldn't buy it because of that, and would let them know.

But like many things in the world (and our country) today, the ones you really have to blame are the idiots who fall for it. If they didn't click on those ads, we wouldn't have to deal with them. It's a step away from spam, and I think anyone who buys from spammers should be thrown off a bridge.




Gifs are not dead
By maven81 on 11/19/2007 10:20:11 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Remember banner ads? You know, those cute little 486x60 GIF files that helpfully displayed some advertisement that you may have been marginally interested in seeing? They’re an endangered species now.


Just wanted to chime in that this is not true. As someone who works in the advertising industry doing said gif banners, I can tell you they are alive and well. The huge flash/javascript ads that you mention are expensive to make, and most clients are smart enough to know that they are annoying as hell. Gifs (and simple animated flash banners) on the other hand are cheap, and more or less quick to produce. They still make up the bulk of what's out there. (by the way before you start throwing stones, I'm only responsible for stuff that gets posted on one or two corporate websites. We don't do the "spank the monkey" types of ads here).




"Game reviewers fought each other to write the most glowing coverage possible for the powerhouse Sony, MS systems. Reviewers flipped coins to see who would review the Nintendo Wii. The losers got stuck with the job." -- Andy Marken














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