The Punitive Pop-up

Following a posting here a few months back, here’s another one of those services that promise to bypass pop-up blockers to deliver pop-ups.

The company’s called Falk eSolutions AG, it’s based in the German town of Moers and says it’s “a leading and global provider of sophisticated ASP-solutions for online marketing” (I’m still waiting for a company that doesn’t describe itself as ‘leading’ and says something more modest, such as ‘middling’ or ‘somewhat to the back of the pack and wheezing a bit from the effort’.)

Its new technology, part of a new release of its AdSolution FX product, will “instantly convert pop-up and pop-under inventory to alternate formats for optimal delivery to those users.” It amuses me how these companies struggle to get round the awkward fact that they are designing technology that involves delivering something to a user who has actively tried not to receive it. Falk, to its credit, doesn’t soft-peddle it: “This dynamic serving technology.. is an option that will allow serving of standard pop-up or similar alternative rich media creative to all users, regardless of the use of pop-up blocking…”

Of course, not everyone blocking a pop-up knows they’re blocking it. Google, Yahoo and other major toolbars block pop-ups by default, and this is clearly hurting the marketing world, since pop-ups have a higher success rate than ordinary ads. But that doesn’t get away from the fact that the technology is specifically designed to circumvent something that a user has put in place, either by design or by installing something that has as one of its main features pop-up blocking. More discussion on this at Slashdot.

An eWeek story by Matt Hicks says the technology “will automatically replace a pop-up or pop-under ad with what are called “floating” ads, or ads that appear as transparent images over Web-site content”. These ads may be the same or different to the pop-up ads that are blocked (this seems to be part of the ‘Punitive Pop-up Approach’, used by folk like the FPBA Group’s Popstitial, where a user trying to block pop-ups is blasted with bigger, different or more ads).

Still, perhaps the most interesting point about all this is the economics. How does a company know whether the pop-up ads it is paying for are actually getting to the customer? As Falk says: “Currently, there is a large and growing discrepancy between the volume of pop-up advertising impressions booked by advertisers and that which is actually seen by online users.” I’m not quite clear on where exactly the problem is — are companies paying for ads getting overcharged because their pop-up ads are not popping up, or are they getting undercharged because the pop-up blockers confuse the ad-tracking pings?

Whatever, Falk reckon that publisher customers are “losing up to 50% of pop-up/under ad impression inventory, causing substantial accountability problems for publishers, who charge by ad display.” Falk seem to be suggesting that with their software this won’t be a problem because pop-up blockers won’t work: “With AdSolution FX these counting differences, in large part due to pop-up ad blockers, will return to a normal and calculable amount similar to usage on computers with no pop-up blocker running.” In other words: With us, your ads will get through.

Part of the silliness of all this, I think, is that publishers realise that pop-up blockers are not popular, yet they still insist on using them. Falk points out that “over the last year, many sites have established consumer-friendly frequency guidelines to limit the number of pop-up/under impressions per user, yet blocker use continues to grow.” That would tell me that people really don’t like pop-ups, but that’s not the conclusion that Falk reaches: “The proliferation of pop-up blocking software has made it harder for web publishers and marketers to do business and monetize the content that users desire,” the press release quotes Joe Apprendi, CEO of Falk North America, as saying.

“As a technology provider, it is our objective to deliver the tools to support the policies and ROI objectives of our customers, both publishers and marketers,” he says. “This customizable feature gives our customers the flexibility they require to best manage their advertising with their audience preferences in mind.” I would have to say I get the strong impression that audience preferences are for no pop-ups. Find another way, guys. If Google’s AdSense has taught us only one thing, it’s that sometimes unobtrusive is best.

Oh, and Falk’s website is a nightmare hotchpotch of badly designed graphics and, yes, meaningless pop-up windows, that are weirdly formatted and hard to read (bad luck if your default setting for links is to have them in blue). If that’s not enough to put you off pop-ups, I don’t know what is.

This week’s column – Mailbag

This week’s Loose Wire column answers readers’ questions on Bluesnarfing, the unpleasant term for the unpleasant process of remotely stealing the data from a Bluetooth-equipped cellphones, the wonders of PowerDesk and ExplorerPlus, and browser wars.

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com (subscription required). Old columns at feer.com here.

Tinderbox The Note Machine

A great piece of software for the Mac, Tinderbox, has just gone to version 2.2.

Tinderbox is a note taker but has moved into interesting new areas, not least blogging. Tinderbox 2.2 offers a nod in this direction, offering new features such as Quick Lists and support for formatting in RSS and Atom, but it is, at its heart, “a unique and powerful tool for making, analyzing, and sharing notes”.

Tinderbox 2.2 is free for those who purchased Tinderbox in the past year.  All other Tinderbox users may purchase the upgrade for just $70 — and receive a full year of future upgrades as well. New users must shell out $145.

X1 and NewsGator Get Together

X1 Technologies, Inc., the hard disk indexing guys, have teamed up with NewsGator Technologies, the RSS-in-your-Outlook guys, to allow fast searches through your subscribed RSS feeds and Usenet newsgroups.

This basically involves an extra element in X1, which “lets a user sort through the aggregated messages and find the content they want, narrowing and displaying results as they type the search terms.  Results are displayed in the X1 preview pane for a quick read or, with a double-click, can be
opened in Outlook.” For now, folk buying X1 Search get NewsGator, which normally sells for $29, free. NewsGator users can buy X1 at a 30% discount.

So how good is this? Robert Scoble, the Microsoft blogger, adds his seal of approval in the X1 press release, calling it “a little bit of Longhorn for you before it ships”. I’m a bit more cautious: Although I’ve written glowingly of both products before, I’ll air a confession: I don’t use either on a regular basis. Why? First off, I’m not a big Outlook fan. It’s big, slow to load, and doesn’t do things I want it to. I use it for contacts, but not for email, so having RSS run through Outlook doesn’t really make sense for me.

And X1? I think X1 is an excellent product, and the guys behind it have raised the bar in terms of listening to users and making something that really works well. Are they there yet? I don’t think so. A couple of things holding me back: It’s not powerful enough to launch or store complex searches and its file viewer is nice but doesn’t remember changes to the way you view data. Don’t get me wrong: For ordinary daily use it’s perfect, but if you’re a power searcher, I don’t think it’s the one. Yet.

Bluetooth, Women And Guerrilla Research

An interesting survey of Bluetooth, both in its results and methods, found by Gizmodo.

The survey (PDF) was conducted by, as far as I can work out, something called Guerrilla Research using technology provided by Zero Sum (I can’t find out much more about these folk, and the PDF file doesn’t deliver up any clues). They seem to have set up a Bluetooth sniffer in London’s business district this month, and recorded the device name and type of anything giving off a Bluetooth signal. The survey is aimed at gauging the commercial potential of Bluetooth, and is based on the premise that, unlike SMS and WAP, Bluetooth is a marketing opportunity not to be missed. Out of approximately 1,500 folk buzzed, there were 177 devices found.

The results of the survey are revealing. First off, PDAs and laptops are negligible in Bluetooth terms. Secondly, more than 60% of devices found still had their default names — their models, such as Nokia 6310i, or whatever. Those that did assign names mostly assigned male ones, which the report offered possible explanations for: men are more into Bluetooth than women; women may not feel the overwhelming urge to ‘personalise’ their device; women may alter the default settings to make their device invisible (for a more ‘natural’ approach to these possible explanations, see Gizmodo’s posting).  

My conclusion: Until we know more background information about these folk the survey will remain highly suspect. But it is revealing, firstly, that so many people keep their Bluetooth devices on their default setting, that is ‘discoverable’, and don’t bother to change the default name. That would suggest that a lot of folk simply don’t know their device has Bluetooth, or don’t know about the dangers of Bluesnarfing or Bluejacking.

Secondly, either women give male names to their devices or there’s an interesting gender difference in using cellphones. Although I’d guess that women and men use their cellphones to an almost equal extent, clearly Bluetooth remains something of a nerdy feature. I’d guess that women are just as likely to alter the customisable features on their cellphone — ringtone, background image — that does not include Bluetooth. That has interesting implications for the raft of new Bluetooth social networking tools we’re seeing. It must also mean there are some seriously frustrated ‘toothing’ guys out there.

Gmail, Gator and Spam

Gmail: Better than spam?  

ClickZ reports that an interesting side effect of Google’s new ad-supported email application, Gmail, are contextual ads from competitors. “Because the contextual ads are targeted based on e-mail message content, as determined by Google’s technology, commercial messages are the ones most likely to trigger ads. That’s because they’re most likely to contain commercial product or brand names, for which Google’s AdWords advertisers frequently buy keywords,” writes ClickZ’s Pamela Parker.

A recent newsletter from fashion vendor Neiman Marcus, for example, triggered ads with the headlines “Kate Spade Handbags,” “Ferragamo at Neoluxury” and “Prada Handbags.” Listings were for BizRate.com, Neoluxury.com and FinestDesigners.com, respectively. Interestingly, all of these must have been triggered purely by the subject line — “Salvatore Ferragamo: Shop the spring collection of shoes, handbags, and more” – since the email content was in the form of pictures, “none of which display by default in the Gmail client,” says ClickZ. What’s more, in a default view in Gmail, a reader would only see the competitors’ ads unless they selected to display external images.

The ClickZ article — itself entitled “Gmail: The Next Gator?” — suggests the situation is “akin to the kind of competitive pop-up ads that have generated controversy (and legal action) for Claria, the renamed company that fires its own ads to users, blotting out those designed to be there by a website’s creator.

What’s interesting here is that, tied in with Google’s recent decision to allow advertisers to bid on trademarked keywords they don’t own, you could see “a message from Banana Republic (for example), simply because of its subject line, trigger ads from J. Crew, Eddie Bauer and the like”.

I haven’t mulled over all the consequences of this, but I don’t see it as exactly similar to Gator. An email newsletter is not facing the obliteration or alteration of its message, design and website integrity in the same way a Gatored website is. But I can see a couple of other possible outcomes:

  • Google’s Gmail suddenly makes a whole lot more commercial sense. Marketers can reach into your inbox more effectively than any spammer. If I sold Gucci handbags, for example, all I have to do is buy ads for every competing brand of fashion handbag and I could be sure that my ads would reach every Gmail account holder interested in the subject, because they’re bound at some point to write about it in an email, or receive an email on it, either from a friend or a supplier;
  • I would imagine this would prod marketing newsletters to move to RSS quite quickly. There they can be a little more confident, for now, that their ‘message’ is not diluted by by contextual ads.

I think this will be more relevant than the discussion about privacy. End users might be quite happy to get contextual ads alongside their handbag newsletter. But they might be more alarmed if they see contextual ads for psychiatric help if they get an email from a friend describing how they went ‘crazy’ on Saturday night, or, more seriously, ads for cancer treatment if they discuss how a family member is coping with his prostate. When does contextual advertising go beyond ‘well targeted’ to become ‘scarily intrusive’?

The Looking For A Hot One Scam

Just in case any of you thought I was making up the domain names in this week’s column, here’s an email I received just now which illustrates how it all works. It’s from the same bunch of guys as all the domains listed in the column, and it looks like this:

We received an email from someone you know who wants to go on a blind-date
with you.

This person has filled out their profile and we need you to fill
out your profile (1 minute application).

Upon filling out your profile you will receive a picture and information
about the person who wants to date you.

http://www.lookingforahotone.com/confirm/?oc=52911112=”/A”>=”/P”>=”/A”>

Sincerly
Jennifer Mckay
Dating Consultant

I particularly like the ‘sincerly’ bit, along with the ‘dating consultant’ tag. That must be a great job. Anyway, the link will take you to a page requesting your email address and a password which, if you’re fool enough to pass on like me, will take you to another page full of lots of pull-down menus for you to select from. These range from specifying your gender to describing your ideal date.

When you’re done with that, you’re promised “your date has been notified of your interest. You will receive an e-mail as soon as your date has been confirmed.” Needless to say there’s going to be a lot of disappointed folk out there, consoled in their vigil only by piles of spam landing in their inbox.

Another Way To Meet Via Bluetooth

Further to a post last week, here’s another piece of software that uses Bluetooth to as a social thing, allowing folk to find and communicate with one another.

It’s called BuZZone, it’s made by Exion Systems Company, based in Novosibirsk, Russia and although it’s been around for a few months, it now comes in a free version. Since the whole idea of the thing is to look for other people using the same program, I guess that makes sense, unless you fancy some very lonely walks around public places.

BuZZone, for now, works only with PocketPC PDAs and Windows laptops. Exion says it’s working on developing versions that work on other systems.

I’m a bit skeptical, to be honest. I know that toothing is supposedly taking off in a big way in the UK. But you’re going to need a lot of people to download this kind of thing before it really starts to be worth it. But hey, I’ve been wrong tons of times before!

The Perils Of Anti-Spyware

Further to an earlier post about whether you could trust a software provider enough to buy anti-keylogging and anti-spyware programs from them if they also sold spyware and keyloggers, here’s an interesting list from Spyware Warrior: programs that claim to be spyware removers but in fact install spyware.

Most of these have a commercial bent, but it’s not too far-fetched to wonder whether such programs could not become the vehicles of choice for folk with more criminal intent, stealing passwords or other personal data from your computer. Indeed, according to this posting, expired website domains of legitimate anti-spy software are sometimes taken over and then used to pedal spyware or dialers (programs that make your computer phone overseas to expensive services).

The bottom line: Be very careful what programs you install on your computer. And nowadays that doesn’t just mean dodgy ‘free’ programs, but even programs that claim to do serious things, like remove spyware. If in doubt, check the company’s homepage, then their Registration information, and then do a Google search of the software’s name to see whether other folk are complaining about it. Then decide whether you want to install it.

This week’s column – A Love Affair With Spam

This week’s Loose Wire column is about spam and love:

 FOR 10 YEARS NOW, our in-boxes have been bombarded with spam. Sadly there’s no sign that the situation is improving, but perhaps we’re looking at it all wrong. After receiving some very dubious e-mails containing links to very long and suspicious-looking Web sites, I wondered whether there wasn’t a deeper message in spam that we were missing. So I took a closer look at all the Web sites registered by one spammer, the possibly fictitious Carnegie Sun Ltd., allegedly registered in Barbados. My conclusion: If properly deciphered, the company’s registered Web sites reveal a manual to dating and love that is timeless in its simplicity and elegance. I reproduce it here in the hope that your love lives may benefit as much as mine.

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com (subscription required). Old columns at feer.com here.