Where is the line between editorial independence and the advertisers who make a media publication viable?
Forbes, DMNews reports (thanks Online Journalism.com), has started included ’embedded ads’ in its news stories via Vibrant Media, a specialist in contextual advertising. These ads are links matching related words — car, house, music, that sort of thing. With nearly 5 million visitors in June, Forbes is Vibrant Media’s biggest client for IntelliTXT. As DMNews says, “IntelliTxt links are double underlined in blue to set them off from non-paid hyperlinks, which are in blue but not underlined. When a user hovers over an IntelliTxt link, the listings display a pop-up box with a ‘sponsored link’ heading and site description.”
I’ve written before about how I believe this is the wrong way to go. (Here’s a post I did on Vibrant Media last December, where I concluded that the whole thing was misleading.) At least with Forbes’ ads, the pop-up box informs the user where they would go should they click on the link. I have to confess I wasn’t able to find a single ad on Forbes’ site yet.
But there’s still plenty of things wrong with this. First off, context is everything. While the genre calls itself contextual, it is actually merely grabbing related words and turning them into links: The perils of this are legion. For example, ‘car’ may make a good for Ford ad in a piece on what kind of SUV to buy, but isn’t going to look so hot in a story about a major accident.
The bigger problem here is, as DMNews points out, online journalism is still trying to establish itself. As a journalist, to find one’s words mined for possible commercial links would smack of cheapness, and might lead to pressure from marketing departments to include more marketable words in their story. Or to edit them to make it so? Or to include references to specific companies so the link can be IntelliTXTed? How will journalists react to see their copy fiddled with in this way?
Then there’s the reader. How useful — read relevant — are these ads going to be? Watching IntelliTXT in action elsewhere I would say not very much. By contrast I’ve found Google’s AdSense listings, which appear to the right of search results, to be relevant, certainly less intrusive, and I actually launch searches some times just to see whether there are related or rival products out there I’m missing. Now that’s useful advertising.