March 5, 2001-- Newsletter #120

By Joe Burns

Goodies to Go (tm)
March 5, 2001--Newsletter #120

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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

If you attempted to write to me after the previous newsletter, I probably didn't see your note. My email was being switched over to the servers. The email is the same. You can always reach me at The problem came in tricking the servers into thinking my new address was really my HTML Goodies address. Servers don't like to be tricked. I lost all mail from Tuesday through most of Thursday last week. I'd like to tell you I didn't enjoy 48 hours without email, but it was a nice break.

Did you hear...

Would you like to purchase something that was taken from a criminal? Then head to It's a Web site set up by ex-cops, including former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates that auctions unclaimed property seized by the police. The first thing I wondered was what happens if I log in to buy something and there's the color TV someone stole from me last week? Well, if you can positively identify the items as yours, they'll ship it back to you for free. It's a service titled "Steal it Back".

Have you seen the footage of the Washington State earthquake? There's one where the ground shakes right under Bill Gates as he gives a presentation. I have no idea how I'd react in an earthquake. He seemed to handle it pretty well. He just walked to the center of the stage and waited it out. What else could he do?

The FTC investigation of DoubleClick is no more (tip of the hat to the Monty Python Parrot skit). The reason was that there was no proof that DoubleClick released any "personal identifying information" for any reason other than those already in the disclosure statement.

Now onto today's topic...

I was asked to address the Southeastern Louisiana University Association of Computer Machinists this past Thursday night. I had to say yes simply because the name sounded so important.

This was a group of about 40 computer science students who were hard-core PERL, JAVA, and C++ programmers. They were the cream of the programming crop at my university. The two students who invited me asked if I would discuss design rather than actual programming. The group does enough of that on their own. That seemed to make sense so I prepared an hour on Web design.

We had a great time talking and critiquing Web sites. Towards the end, one of the programmers told me that he was "disgusted" with the number of banner ads on Web pages. He proclaimed to always surf with his inline images and JavaScript functions turned off. That way he isn't bothered by all of the ads. His voice rang with the sound of someone who has stuck a blow against the establishment.

We talked and I made my usual "what if everyone surfed without looking at the banner ads - the Web would be a pay-for place" speech. He somewhat agreed and then proclaimed, "It just bugs me that so many sites are not only putting ads on their pages, but now have pop up windows and applet windows and windows when you leave. Why do they do that?"

Before I could answer, another student blurted out, "Because you ain't looking, man."

Poor English aside, he's wholly and fully correct. We ain't looking.

Oh sure, we may be looking, but we sure aren't clicking. Because we're not clicking, advertisers are starting to incorporate tactics that were once seen as nasty methods used only by porn and SPAM sites.

Just this morning, I was surfing around looking for some information about the new Aerosmith CD. At, I was greeted with not only a pop up window, but also an applet pop up window that forced its way to the top of the browser pile. It had a timer proclaiming I had only 30 seconds to act upon this stunning deal for a free pizza.

After finding out about the CD, I split for to see if I could pre-order. Bingo. There was another pop- up window. I went to CNN. There was a pop-up window. I left and hit Camp Chaos. There was another pop-up window. I then left to hit to get the guitar chords for that Foo Fighters song at the beginning of the TV show ED. There I was greeted with not only a pop-up window, but also the request to set Tabcrawler as my HOME. I had to click "no" twice to see this page. Furthermore, every time I returned to the homepage, I got that darn window again.

Woah! My morning surf has become annoying. I am not only being shown banner ads, I am having them thrown in front of my face. This would be equal to the woman at the cosmetic counter tackling you to squirt the latest perfume in your face.

In all honesty, I cannot remember the last time I clicked on a banner ad. I know the sites I enter so well that I have a serious case of banner blindness. I am part of the reason why these pop-up windows are starting to flourish. I am the person that must have the ads thrust in front of my face. If it doesn't happen, I don't look. I can't tell you the banner ads that appeared on the homepages, but I can tell you the banner ads that popped up. Those I will remember.

But so what? I remember the ad, but I certainly didn't click. In fact, I cursed the ad and closed it as fast as I could. My guess is that the vast majority of the people reading this newsletter are doing the same.

It bothers me that advertisers are undertaking the tactics once thought to be performed only by shysters and cheats. It bothers me further that we're only seeing the tip of the advertiser revolution that's about to hit.

It's obvious that a simple viewing of banners ads is not enough for many advertisers any more. Those advertisers are stepping up the method of presentation attempting to force you to look. But, if looking wasn't enough before, how will looking be enough now?

Some might suggest that simply looking is still enough to satisfy an advertiser. The problem is that there's no sure method of proving that someone looked at a banner ad that is sitting on a page. If the ad pops up in a new window, an advertiser can be fairly sure that the user looked at it.

Well, maybe. The proliferation of pop-up ads and other in-your-face tactics suggests to me that advertisers are becoming aggressive because they want more than just eyeballs on ads. They want increased traffic and sales and these new tactics are giving that to them.

So...success, right? I don't know. If the aggressive formats are truly successful, then more and more advertisers are going to demand it from the sites that display the ads. The Web will become a blur of new windows and soon the audience will reach what's known as the "threshold effect". Everyone is doing the same aggressive tactic so no one stands out. Someone will have to raise the stakes and do something even more aggressive.

I understand that many programs now alter a user's browser when installed. I've not run into one myself, but I've read that many programs install, change the user's HOME setting and disable the BACK button. (Source: Cnet News)

That's overly aggressive and it's not going to sit well with the consumer.

This is a battle that's just beginning. I can see this being the big Internet story in a couple of years. Dig this time line...

Users, for the most part, do not like banner ads. Users do not click on banner ads in large enough numbers so that advertisers are satisfied. Advertisers become more and more aggressive, forcing users to look at the ads. Users still resist. The advertisers continue to become more and more aggressive until a critical mass is reached. There really isn't much more aggression to be implemented.

What then?

I fear that advertisers will start to see banner ads as not effective and start to put their ad money in more traditional media. That means lower ad revenue for the sites that would run supported solely by advertisers. The costs for running the sites won't go away anytime soon, so the money has to come from somewhere. The users are going to have to be charged or the site will die.

I read a great article about what sites will be the most likely to succeed in the future. The overwhelming answer, at least according to this author, were sites that sell product. He believed that ad-supported sites would have serious worries soon.

Could we be seeing the beginnings of that prophecy coming true? Is this new found advertiser aggression suggesting advertisers want more than page views for their money?

If so, will the problem simply escalate until users resist advertising to the point where advertisers don't see it being worth their time and money anymore?

I hope not. I would like to keep HTML Goodies free to you, but it isn't free to me. If your surfing is becoming more and more annoying as more and more windows pop up, think not only about how much you dislike those ads, but also why those ads are being thrown up so often.

It might be a foreshadowing of a real problem in the future of the Internet


That's that. Thanks very much for reading.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: On March 13th, celebrate "Open an Umbrella Indoors" day in Walkersville, Maryland. It's a day set aside to debunk the old wives tale from the 1800's that opening an umbrella indoors will bring bad luck. My research into why opening an umbrella indoors is considered unlucky ranged from the umbrella first being used to block the sun rather than rain. Thus, opening it indoors was not a proper use and offended God. I also found that the umbrella's round shape represented the sun and opening in indoors once again offended God. There were other suggestion as to why opening indoors might be bad luck, but they seemed a little too goofy to mention except the one site that suggested that the tall tale was at first something parents told children simply so they wouldn't open a large, bulky object inside the house where so many things could get broken. I think the not walking under a ladder superstition may come from the same vein.

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