DMNews reports that Forbes has quietly removed the links “after editors objected to the appearance of advertising influencing editorial decisions”. Forbes says that the perception of a problem was more in its journalists’ minds than in those of the public.
The service, provided by Vibrant Media’s IntelliTXT, works like this, according to DMNews:
IntelliTxt links typically are double underlined and in a different color than non-paid hyperlinks. When a user hovers over an IntelliTxt link, the listings display a pop-up box with a “sponsored link” heading and site description. Forbes.com includes a “What’s this” link in the pop-up box directing users to an explanation page that offers the ability to turn off IntelliTxt for that site. Vibrant Media said fewer than 1 percent of the site’s users chose to banish IntelliTxt.
The article is worth reading for a more general debate about these contextual ads. My feeling is that unless the links are actually really contextual and intelligent — for example providing a link to something that that is clearly related to the text, is clearly marked as an ad and an ad that is exactly the same as the word it is next to, these things will quickly annoy and alienate readers. Sadly, so far, this has not been the case.