Thursday's recommended links

Written by Adrian Holovaty on September 5, 2002

MSNBC: Have Web pop-ups peaked? -- Personally, I prefer pop-ups to large, invasive ads in the middle of content. (At least pop-ups are in a separate window, which allows me to read articles in peace, and besides, Mozilla blocks them. Since I started using that Mozilla feature, I haven't seen a single pop-up.) In my mind, sites that use invasive, middle-of-the-page ads send a clear message: They don't care whether people actually read their content. I often wonder whether the people who implement invasive advertising actually use the Web on a regular basis. Do they find it easy to read news articles with huge, animated Toyota ads flickering within the content well?

Jay Small: Latest Sensible Internet Design newsletter -- "Are you sure you want it to look like that?"

Scientific American: XML and the Second-Generation Web -- A readable May 1999 article explaining the theory behind XML. (Link from InfoDesign)


Posted by Jay Small on September 5, 2002, at 7:42 p.m.:

Hi, Adrian! I, too, like the Mozilla pop-blocker. And in that context, yeah, I agree that pops are less hassle than billboard ads.

But I've always felt that -- as long as it's still mostly an Internet Explorer world -- a single, billboard-sized ad with news/editorial/info content comfortably wrapped around it (meaning legibly, with no atrocious margins) was easier to handle than a pop. It's easier to use if you are interested in the ad content, because you're not constantly flipping window focus, and it's especially easier to ignore if you're not interested. I sense that "banner blindness" even extends to large-format ads, though the billboards and towers do seem to stand a slightly better chance of winning the attention of people who may actually be interested in the ad content. Seems the classic 468x60 banner can't even attract interested parties, and woe upon the pitiful tile-size ad.

Those feelings are entirely gut instinct (which makes it funny that you plugged my newsletter about design vanities [thanks], because I'm exercising one now :-). So I'm hoping in my "corporate" job that upcoming rounds of user testing will reveal useful clues about the comparative consumer tolerance for pops vs. jumbo ads.

Posted by Rob on September 5, 2002, at 10:01 p.m.:

For some reason, I was still getting New York Times popup ads using Mozilla's blocker ... but I just went to the site and I'm not getting them now. Odd.

Posted by Adrian on September 6, 2002, at 2:26 a.m.:

Jay, keep us posted on the user testing, if the results aren't company secret. :)

I do agree about atrocious margins. The most annoying jumbo ads to me are the ones that butt right up against the text. Reading text online is hard enough. And the animated ones without an obvious "stop animation" button are the worst! Sometimes I cut and paste text into Notepad just to be able to read it in peace.

Posted by Ben Meadowcroft on September 6, 2002, at 12:03 p.m.:

If you want to get rid of those banner adds add a little subvertive element to your user style sheets.

img[height="60"][width="468"], img[height="60px"][width="468px"] {display: none !important;}

Visit IAB banner sizes to get the standard dimensions for banner adds and create similar CSS rules to the one above.

Inspired by Eric Meyers CSS Anarchy.

Posted by Adrian on September 6, 2002, at 2:41 p.m.:

What a fantastic idea. Would this mess up the design of some pages, though? I'll have to try it out.

Posted by Adrian on September 6, 2002, at 5:49 p.m.:

Problem. That user style sheet setting only works when ad images explicitly set their widths and heights to 468x60. If a banner ad leaves off the "width" and "height" attributes, the style sheet doesn't block it out. Hmmmm...

Posted by Ben Meadowcroft on September 7, 2002, at 10:11 a.m.:

The link to the IAB I gave gives the standard sizes of various banners, if you get all of those then you get rid of most of the standard banner sizes. You would need to set rules for all those sizes.

Setting the widths and heights of advertisment images is fairly common practice as it speeds up the rendering of a page (esp in tables), setting the widths and heights etc makes the banners display faster, which is generally what the advertisers want, so they get it. I had a quick look around and they seem to be setting the widths and heights etc.

One workaround for preserving layout is to use {visibility:hidden !important} as the rule, this preserves the space the content takes up, from the specs "The generated box is invisible (fully transparent), but still affects layout."

Posted by Chris Heisel on September 8, 2002, at 6:52 p.m.:

Not to spoil anyone's fun, but economic realities mean that sites need advertising -- you as a consumer get news at the cost of devoting some of your time to viewing advertisements.

Let's face it, content is not free -- in the case of news sites someone has to report, write, edit, and photograph a story. All those people have to get paid somehow. Not to mention the costs associated with Web producers, content management systems, server space and bandwith.

So it's advertising or flat-out cash for content. Personally, I prefer ads...

While I agree that some sites ads are truly horrid (there is one ad going around that has a backgroud that loops through every single color in the spectrum in one second and loops -- it gives me a headache).

Popup/unders, flash ads that display on top of content, and many other forms of advertising are poor uses of the medium and contribute to the anti-ad sentiment of many.

Someday, when I finish my Web site, I'm going to post an article I've been noodling around about replacing Terms of Service pages with a User's Bill of Rights and a Site's Bill of Rights that would essentially say we'll try not to annoy you with flash ads over content, pop ups, etc. in return you agree not to block ads.

That and an article on the inherent flaws in the current Web advertising model.

Posted by Jay Small on September 8, 2002, at 7:46 p.m.:

I'll just add that a lot of ad server software, including the very popular Real Media Open Ad Stream, does not set ad sizes in the IMG tag by default so that it can "forgive" ad insertions that don't happen to fit a fixed format.

And I'm just not militant enough to block ads at this time -- besides, in my "real" job, I need to be sure that our ads are serving properly to the vast majority of people who would never think to set up their own user-defined styles or, for that matter, change any browser defaults.

Posted by Adrian on September 8, 2002, at 11:22 p.m.:

Jay brings up a good point: Most people don't have the technical know-how (or desire) to edit user style sheets, and probably won't until there's a really simple UI for editing them. Therefore I don't believe news site operators should worry extensively about people who disable online advertising.

On that note, I've been experimenting with a way to block all ads, regardless of size, via a user-defined style sheet, and I've come up with a solution that blocks about 90% of them (on the sites on which I've tested it). With my new hacked solution and Mozilla's pop-up blocking feature, my browsing experience is significantly more enjoyable, and I daresay my quality of life has improved. :)

More on this later, if I decide to make the code public. As an employee of a news site myself, I'm not sure whether doing so would be empowering the masses or shooting myself in the foot.

Posted by Chris Heisel on September 10, 2002, at 2:18 a.m.:

Foot, definetly the foot.

At least if you enjoy free content...

Comments have been turned off for this page.