Tag Archives: IntelliTXT

Living With Ads

Amy Gahran over at Poynter blogs some more on annoying ads and tips on how to get rid of them. She also refers to John Battelle’s suggested alternative to IntelliTXT “to break out keywords for a given article in a separate box, and run that box at the end or to the side of the article? This addresses the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup problem (your advertising peanut butter is in my editorial chocolate….) but retains the power and reader service of the system.”

Good idea. I love good ads, from Amazon’s “you might wanna read this if you read that” and Google’s AdSense (sometimes). So how about leveraging the very cool Sidenotes thing from arco90.com. Very nice, intuitive and so long as there aren’t too many of them (and they’re relevant) something I could live with…

Block That Flash

Further to my rant about IntelliTXT and its interstitial ads (why do I think they’re called that? No one else seems to think so. Maybe I just like saying “interstitials”), here’s a great tip from Amy Gahran at Poynter Online, on blocking Flash-based ads, using a Firefox plugin called Flashblock. She has this message for news websites (or any websites) that rely on these intrusive ads:

I’m sorry if Flash-based ads are a cornerstone of your online business model. But frankly, basing your business model on something that annoys people is probably not a sound approach in an age where audiences exercise ever-finer control over the media they receive. Fighting human nature is always bad business in the long run.

Hear hear.

The Pop Up Piggyback

Is it just me, or have these interstitial ads or whatever they call themselves suddenly become ubiquitous, and no less annoying for it? They now seem to be everywhere (even O’Reilly uses them, shockingly, although it does offer a way to disable them). These are ads, courtesy of companies like Vibrant Media IntelliTXT, that add underlined links to certain words on a website which, when you move your mouse over them, pop up an ad that’s tangentially related to the word in question. This one, for example:

Intellitxt

The ad is for digital cameras. The word link is “review”. The piece itself is about solar-powered garden lights from one of my favorite gadget sites, the long running Gadgeteer. But these ads drive me nuts. Move your mouse over any of the nine links on that article and you’ll get a popup window like the above. Few of them are useful or relevant, as the following study reveals:

  • AC adapter – as in “There’s something really cool about using the power of the sun instead of the power of an AC adapter, when it comes to powering products” — throws up an ad for Laptop AC adapters
  • Review – as in “that’s why I was more than happy to review a solar powered garden accent light” — throws up an ad for Digital Cameras
  • Light weight – as in “The product is composed of a durable and UV protected resin material that looks very much like stone, while remaining light weight” — throws up an ad for Light weight (sic. The ad text is for “Shop for great deals on light weight and millions of other products”. No idea what they’re talking about)
  • Picture — as in “One clue that this might be the case [i.e. that the product cracks; They’re thorough in their reviews over there] is the picture hanger built into the back of the stone” — throws up ad for Free Digital Photo Software
  • Battery – as in “On the back of the stone, you see the battery compartment” — throws up ad for PDA batteries
  • Batteries — as in “Two rechargeable nickel-cadmium AA batteries are included and pre-installed” — throws up ad for Siemens Cordless Phone Batteries
  • Rechargeable batteries — as in “pre-installed rechargeable batteries store energy to power the light at night” — throws up ad for Sanyo rechargeable batteries, the first ad in this bunch which is vaguely relevant to the context.
  • Photo — as in “The built-in photo sensor automatically activates the light” — throws up an ad for Musical Slideshow software
  • Flash — as in “Here’s a picture of the stone that I took without a flash” — throws up an ad for Pentax SLR Digital Flash, arguably relevant but so specific you have to wonder whether anyone is really going to be reading the piece and needing a Pentax SLR Digital Flash
  • Conclusion: Out of 9 ads, 1.5 might be possibly considered useful to the reader.

I’ve whinged about this before (and before), believing it was too intrusive and likely to create a conflict of interest on the part of content creators who may be influenced to insert words that are more likely to match contextual words sold to advertisers. In the example above, for example, a less scrupulous content producer than The Gadgeteer might have chosen, or be encouraged to choose “photo sensor” over “photosensor” (the latter spelling slightly more popular online than the former) because the word “photo” would attract more ads. That’s not a sinister example, but what if the ad sellers forwarded a list of words popular among advertisers, which would steer content producers into putting those words into their writing?

(Vibrant Media says that “IntelliTXT ad units are delivered in real-time and deployed after the article has been published by the website. This is an automated process that cannot influence, or be influenced by the Editorial Team at this website or any other partner publication.” It also includes in its guidelines (PDF) a line: “Vibrant Media strongly encourages publishers not to implement IntelliTXT in late breaking news, political coverage, or other news channels that Vibrant Media deems to be controversial or inappropriate.”)

But the conflict of interest issue (news websites like Forbes.com stopped dealing with IntelliTXT, apparently over this issue) is less important to me than the annoyance and befuddlement that comes with these faux links. There is one real link in Julie’s review but it’s lost in there. First off, it’s the same color as the IntelliTXT ads, but it’s not double underlined, and it’s covered, when the mouse moves over the line above, by an IntelliTXT pop up (see if you can spot it in the screenshot above.) I find these ads annoying, distracting, and not a little confusing. When you compare it to the contextual ads displayed alongside content, you can’t help wondering whether this is a big step backwards for online content. (The ads alongside Julie’s review include one on Solar Powered Fountains and one on Solar battery chargers. I’d argue both those are a darned sight more relevant than any of the interstitials.)

Vibrant Media call this kind of advertising “user-driven advertising”. How is it user-driven? It says that “IntelliTXT helps empower users to view relevant advertising on their own terms.” Relevant? I think not. How “empower”, exactly? “Own terms”? I’d argue IntelliTXT piggy backs a fine tradition of hyperlinking — the vision and bedrock of the World Wide Web to sucker users into mistaking a popup ad for a genuine link.

Vibrant Media sells the idea to advertisers as a way to “Use words to brand. Cut through the online advertising clutter”. Actually, I’d argue it adds to the clutter, and, as the example above shows, has nothing to do with “branding” as anyone I know might understand it.

So what can one do? First off, IntelliTXT isn’t loading anything onto your computer. The ads are sleazy, but the actual implementation isn’t. If you’re a Firefox user, install Greasemonkey and then this IntelliTXT Disabler script. The IntelliTXT links will load, briefly appear and then you won’t see them no more. If you’re not a Firefox user, get it. Sure, websites need advertising to survive, but lets make sure they are either smart ads, funny ads, ads that are relevant to the content, ads that don’t mislead the reader, and, finally, ads that don’t get in the way.

What’s Been Missing From Blogs

Here’s a very cool blogging tool that fixes a hole in providing supplementary information or footnotes without the user either having to jump to the bottom of the post, to another page, or having a pop-up box obscure what they’re reading (the latter is particularly annoying because it’s been hijacked by interstitial ads like IntelliTXT. These masquerade as links but are in fact irrelevant ads tagged to certain keywords. Anyway, here’s the idea: post it notes on the side of a page that are linked, via color to highlighted text. Like this:

Sidenotes

As you can see, the highlighted text is clearly linked to the box above it, allowing the reader to glean more information without interrupting the flow of the read. The idea comes from arc90, a New York-based technology and strategic consulting firm, which explains it thus:

It’s a dead simple way to include color-coded sidenotes in your blog or web page. What are sidenotes you ask? They’re like footnotes, except cooler. They’re color-coded against highlighted text and sit alongside the main body of text rather than at the bottom.

It’s pretty easy to install, apparently, so much so I might even do it myself. I’ve long felt that linking in blogs (and other web pages for that matter) needed an extra tool which would help add context and the extra information that might otherwise put in footnotes, but not either irritate the user with popups or have them leave your page to get the information. Links are good, but they’re not always the answer. Maybe unobtrusive sidenotes are.

Forbes Quietly Drops The Misleading Link

Forbes has dropped its controversial embedded ad links, discussed on Loose Wire a few months back.

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.

IntelliTXT, Forbes And The Rise Of The Misleading Link

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.

Popups Never Die, They Just Mutate

In response to my post yesterday, a reader suggested that with the proliferation of pop-up ad blockers in browsers and toolbars, who needs to worry anymore about ‘contextual’ ad services like WhenU?

Since I installed the Google toolbar, I’ve forgotten what a pop-up looks like. Since I installed Win XP SP2, the “pop-ups blocked” counter on the Google toolbar hasn’t moved. In a few years, you’ll be writing a column called “Remember Popups?”

Not quite yet, unfortunately. Ben Edelman, an expert on privacy issues and a critic of services like WhenU, tells me: “WhenU doesn’t use these methods at all. Rather it uses client-side software, and popup stoppers just don’t stop this. And they can’t, easily, given 1) the way popup stoppers work, and 2) the way WhenU works.”

I’ll be looking more at this in a future column, but for now, yes, popups as we know them needn’t be much of a bother. But meantime the contextual ad industry continues, with companies like Popstitial (looked at in another earlier post) and IntelliTXT (looked at here) raising the bar.