Mac Musings

LEM Boycotts Cnet Links

Daniel Knight - 2001.02.06 -

It's bad enough no two sites can agree on whether to write it as CNET, cNet, Cnet, C-net, or (our favorite) Cnet, but their new ads are the most annoying thing to hit the Web since popup ads, like the one below.

c-net ad

Can you believe it - this ad is 374 pixels wide and 326 pixels tall. That's a total of 121,924 or 40% of the real estate available on a standard 640x480 display. (Imagine how this ad displays on a WinCE or Palm handheld!)

Of course, Cnet can't be too concerned with people on the technological trailing edge. Their design is almost unusable unless you have an 800x600 display and run your browser full screen. Even then, this add uses over half the width of their current design, which inconveniently doesn't scale to your browser's window.

Even on an 800x600 monitor, over one-fourth of screen real estate is dedicated to a single interactive ad. Sorry, Cnet, but I think that's excessive, so I won't be linking to your site until you get reasonable about ads.

Our Lifeblood

Believe me, I'm not opposed to online ads. If not for them, I'd still be working an information services job, not running this site full-time. The ads make it possible for me to provide this content without charging you a dime. They're good for you, for me, and for our sponsors.

Other Online Nightmares

I try to avoid linking to sites, such as the New York Times, that require a user ID and password. Signing up isn't a high price to pay for access to their site, but some people are very privacy conscious and others tend to forget their passwords. It's an annoyance I prefer to live without.

The worst thing I've seen is popup ads. You know, the ones that open a new window in your browser. One of our favorite sites, ramSeeker, is using them to promote a 256 MB memory giveaway. Win98 Central, otherwise an excellent site (hey, we gotta keeps tabs on the dark side!), pops up an ad the minute you scroll down the page or select a link. I find that very annoying.

Sites can be responsive to negative feedback. Mac Junkie tried popups once. They even tried to make sure visitors would only see their survey popup once. They learned their lesson.

Ironically, we found an article on Cnet itself, Consumers combat popup with software, that discusses consumer disdain for popup ads - and we just had to link one last time.

Online Ads Work

There's a lot of talk about new ad models on the Web. From my perspective, the current mix of banner ads (almost invariably 468x60 pixels), badge ads (much smaller, often around 100x100 pixels), and text ads work. They provide a way for sponsors to get their name in front of the public - and a way for the public to immediately respond and visit the sponsor's site. No other medium matches that kind of interactivity.

Still, advertisers see that click through rates (CTR) have been dropping for some time. When we read a magazine or newspaper, we tend to look right past a lot of ads. We've learned the same behavior on the Web.

The other model comes from radio and television, where the ad completely disrupts the programming. On the radio, a lot of us just hit the next preset. On TV, we hit mute, take a snack or potty break, or surf to see what else is on.

We may see new models that work well but are less invasive than popups or Cnet's new monster ads. I've suggested some alternatives to the standard banner ad, such as vertical "quarter page ads" (maybe 180 pixels wide and 280 tall) that would draw attention but not dominate a low-end 640x480 display. Or maybe a small box that could run a QuickTime movie if the visitor clicks the ad.

By choosing the right format, the ads could be integrated into the flow of the page, which the majority of today's banner, badge, and text ads aren't. Content ads, as I call them, might be harder for viewers to ignore, since they won't be located at the periphery of the page.

This is precisely what Cnet is trying to do - but at a more practical size.

Another suggestion Bryan Chaffin of The Mac Observer champions is an ad that loads and displays while the page itself is loading. This could work, but I think the logistics would be difficult, somehow forcing the page to load after the ad has been displayed or using a popup to obscure the page you really want to see. (The problem with popup is that you either close them or move them behind your main browser window to see your destination page.)

The Web as we know it remains a relatively recent innovation, and Web ads are much newer than the Web itself. Change is something we have to expect, but unlike Cnet's mega-ads, lets hope those changes are for the better.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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