Revenge Of The Popup

TechDirt points to a new service that beats PopUp blockers. The Popstitial, according to marketing company webadvantage, “doesn’t defeat pop blockers, it instead determines whether a popup blocker is being used. If so, Popstitial then serves up a full-page advertisement that can either be a separate ad or the same style as the missed pop-up/pop-under”. In other words, it will work out whether you’ve tried to block the popup, and punish you with a popup you can’t block. As TechDirt points out, “The reason people install pop-up blockers is because they don’t want to be bothered with these intrusive ads.”

Sadly, this is just another salvo in the war between people who want to pump ads at you, and people who don’t want to have ads pumped to them. But, on closer inspection, it’s also a somewhat alarming escalation. The Popstitial is developed by the FPBA Group, a “California rich media company” (read ad software company). FPBA happens to stand for  “Full Page Banner Ad”, which was a product the company was touting in mid 2001 as “the killer app that the online advertising companies need in order to take this industry to the next level.” The FPBA, it went on

is a full-page advertisement that is displayed on the primary browser session in between page loads. It does not launch a new pop-up session and does not interfere with the main browsing session. The ad is loaded to the users computer after downloading of the main session page, and is cached prior to its being launched when the user transfers out of the main session page. This allows a seamless delivery of web-page — advertisement — web-page progression. The advertisement is not cluttered by surrounding web-page content, and is timed to appear when the consumer has nothing else to focus upon, so that the full attention of the consumer is focused on the advertisement. A multimedia version of the ad, incorporating audio and video flash components is also available where the ads play like a short commercial in a rich media environment.

In English, the FPBA would load in the background as you viewed a webpage, and then appear on your screen when you tried to go somewhere else. The idea is that you’re not looking at a specific web page so it will get your ‘full attention’. I have to confess I never saw any instances of this outside the pornographic world (according to my friend John) so, and I’m guessing here, the FPBA was not the killer app the company thought it would be.

So perhaps the Popstitial (I hate the name already) may do the trick. It’s certainly intrusive enough: According to Internet marketing mag iMedia Connection, Popstitial is a bit more sleazy (my words, not theirs) than simply replacing a pop-up which is blocked by a pop-up blocker. It will notice if a user closes a pop-up window ‘before actively viewing an ad’ and launch “a full-page advertisement to replace the lost pop-up impression. This insures advertisers’ messages are getting across to the intended target audience seamlessly.” These ads could be Flash, video, animated gifs, or static images; they are “fully trackable, geo-targeted, day-parted, and frequency capped” (OK I don’t know what that means but it sounds scary.)

In shorthand: if you don’t view the popup before closing it, or try to block it, you’ll get blasted with a Full Page Banner Ad. Call it Revenge of the Popup.

This is partly testimony to the success of popup blockers. iMedia quote the CEO of FBPA Group as saying that “Many sites, both large and small, have told us that at least 25 percent of all users have some sort of pop-up blocker activated.” Which is impressive. Expect the popup war to grind on.

A Way Forward For RSS Content

RSS is one of those technologies that’s hard to explain to casual users of the Internet. When you tell them they can have their news and site updates in the form of a feed, direct to their desktop, they usually ask

a) can’t I do that already? I thought I could do that already.
b) you mean like email? I don’t want more programs on my computer. Or
c) OK, sounds good but what kind of things can I get?

Don’t get me wrong. RSS, or something like it, is the future. But it’s a hard sell to folk who haven’t downloaded a program in their life (more people than you’re care to imagine; I wonder what the stats on that look like), or to folk who are so worn out by spam they don’t want to sift through more bits and pieces arriving on the computer. But even if people do like the sound of it, RSS still doesn’t lend itself to grabbing information. It’s great for folks looking to read what other people are writing, or even keeping up to speed on general news, but it doesn’t quite have the customisation necessary to lure ordinary folk. Not everyone considers reading blogs in another format to be their idea of fun.

This may be changing (not the idea of fun, the customisation of RSS.) Klips, an RSS-type desktop feed from Serence, have introduced modules that include feeds of more specific, user-defined data, allowing you to track selected currencies, UPS and FedEx packages and stocks. (While I love the design and simplicity of Klips, I don’t think they work for large bodies of information, such as blogs and news, so expect to see Klips move more and more in the direction of small clumps of changing data, such as traffic reports, flight departure and arrival times, or hot deals, scattered around your desktop.)

RSS could do a lot of this too, but so far hasn’t. You can harvest a lot of information via RSS but most of it is passive: You can’t tailor it too much. Either take the feed or don’t. This will change, and already is beginning to, thanks in part to a guy called Mikel Maron from the University of Sussex. He’s come up with a way to deliver some of the personalized data from your My Yahoo! account to an RSS feed, a neat trick that arose from his university studies. (If you’re interested in the technical aspects, here they are in PDF form.) So far his feed — which is not related to Yahoo! in any way — can handle market quotes, weather and movie listing, depending on how you’ve configured your Yahoo! account. But of course his approach offers great potential for funnelling all sorts of personalized data straight to your RSS browser. Let’s hope Yahoo! support, or even buy, Mikel’s efforts.

(Thanks to Chris Pirillo’s LockerGnome RSS Resource for pointing out Mikel’s site.)

Goodbye To The Browser?

Here’s some more interesting end-of-year stuff from Nielsen//NetRatings: a report issued today (PDF file) says that three out of every four home and work Internet users access the Internet using a non-browser based Internet application, particularly media players, instant messengers and file sharing applications. “With 76 percent of Web surfers using Internet applications, functionality has grown beyond the browser to become a fundamental piece of the overall desktop,” said Abha Bhagat, senior analyst Nielsen//NetRatings. “It’s become harder to distinguish when you’re on the Internet, blurring the lines between what’s sitting on the desktop and what’s coming from the World Wide Web.”

According to the report, the top five applications are Windows Media Player, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger Service and Real Player. Of these top five applications, Windows Media has the largest active user reach at 34 percent. AOL Instant Messenger was next at 20 percent, followed by Real Player also at 20 percent, MSN Messenger Service at 19 percent and Yahoo! Messenger Service, which reaches 12 percent of the active user base.

Interesting. But what does it actually tell us? First off, we shouldn’t get confused by the data. This doesn’t mean that folks are eschewing the browser, just that a lot of other programs are also connecting to the Internet (where is e-mail in all this?). Second, if Real Networks and MSN Messenger are anything to go by, a lot of these programs access the Internet without the user doing anything (or even knowing about it) so does this actually count? Lastly, there’s been plenty written already about how Microsoft is moving past the browser to incorporate similar functionality into its Office and other products — say Microsoft Word 2003’s Research Pane, for example — so it’s clear the big boys would have us move to more proprietary, locked-in environments, which all of the top five applications have in common. We’re not so much witnessing a demographic change as a deliberate shove by the main players.

My wish list? I’d like to see all of these players stop hoodwinking the end-user by loading their programs into the start-up queue automatically (you know who you are). It’s deliberately misleading (read: sleazy), it hogs resources and it skews data like Nielsen’s. I’d also like to see AOL, MSN and Yahoo all agree to share their instant messaging lists so folk like me don’t have to use great alternatives like Trillian to pull together our disparate buddy networks (Trillian will lump all your different Instant Messaging accounts into one easy to view window, minus all the ads and annoying pop-ups).

I see no danger in the browser gradually being phased out for plenty of web-related tasks. But, if the Internet has really become ‘part of the desktop’ let’s try to make it a place where ordinary folk can hang out without too much hassle.

Yahoo Proposes A Way Out Of Spam

 At last, someone is doing something about spam. Part of the problem behind spam is that email allows sleazier folk to fake where the email is coming from (the ‘From’ part of the email’s address fields, or header.) But if email didn’t allow that, and authenticated a sender before passing it on to the recipient, you might kill off spam in a second.
 
The problem has been implementing something like this. How do you get everyone to agree on the new system? Yahoo, Reuters reports, reckons it has the answer: architecture where sending an e-mail message would embed a secure, private key in a message header. The receiving system would check that against the sending domain’s public key. If the public key is able to decrypt the private key embedded in the message, then the e-mail is considered authentic and can be delivered. If not, then the message is assumed not to be an authentic one from the sender and is blocked.
 
Yahoo says it can make the system work even if only a few major email providers adopt it. Given Yahoo’s size in the email world that may not be so hard. Yahoo is making the technology available for free, so that while it may cost money to implement, it doesn’t leave any one player with a proprietary technology dominating the industry. (I guess spam costs Yahoo so much money it has figured it’s cheaper to give away a new system if it gets rid of spam.)
 
It’ll be interesting to see how far this goes before another big player, say Microsoft, tries to stomp on it.

Update: Online Music Gets Nasty

 This whole online MP3 download service business is getting nasty. The Register reports that MusicMatch and Apple, once in cahoots, are now doing what they can to elbow the other off the stage. “Apple and MusicMatch are locked in a battle to see who can infect as many personal computers with DRM (digital rights management) as quickly as possible,” The Register says. Good point: with different systems in place for managing the MP3s you download, users will find it hard to have two or more subscriptions to these services going at the same time. The upshot: whichever software you use will determine which subscription service you use.
 

Update: Some Positive Thoughts on MusicMatch

 A positive early review of Musicmatch’s new online music store, from Paul Thurrott of WinInfo Update. “Musicmatch Downloads also has some unique advantages over competing services, such as higher-quality downloadable songs,” he says. Musicmatch Downloads currently offers more than 200,000 songs for download, and the company says that more than 500,000 songs will be available by the end of the year. Like the competition, the Musicmatch service doesn’t require a subscription fee.
 
(I can never find WinInfo stories on the website, so to read stories like this, it’s best to subscribe to their newsletter.)

Update From The IM Wars Front

 Seems like the IM wars aren’t over yet. Further to my postings about Yahoo and Microsoft Messenger apparently blocking third party chat aggregators like Trillian, seems the latter’s patches don’t seem to be enough to keep folk connected. CNET reports that Yahoo has begun blocking Cerulean Studios’ Trillian software from communicating with its own instant messaging software as part of its plan to limit third parties from piggybacking on its service.
 
On Thursday, some Trillian users began reporting an inability to communicate with their Yahoo Messenger contacts. A Yahoo spokeswoman on Friday morning confirmed that Trillian users’ inability to access Yahoo Messenger was the result of recent policies put in place by the Web giant. A day after last week’s Yahoo announcement, Trillian released software patches that were aimed at allowing it to continue accessing Yahoo and MSN buddy lists. But as of this week, CNET says, those patches do not appear to be working.