Maybe it’s been around a while, but I only spotted it just now: a new kind of contextual, but only mildly relevant, pop-up link advertising. OK, that’s not what it’s called, but it describes it pretty accurately. It’s called IntelliTXT and it comes from a company called Vibrant Media; it appears as a hyperlink to a word like any other hyperlink but it’s in green. Nothing too weird there. Then you notice text appearing in a little help box thing: It’s not a pop-up ad, exactly, but then it’s not exactly what you expect either, as in a link to a site directly related to the word in question.
Here’s an example, courtesy of InfoSync World: the word ‘mobile’ on this page for example, has a link and pop-up box that says ‘Windows Mobile–Your stuff, now available on the fly. Software for Smartphone, Pocket PC, or Pocket PC Phone Edition. Click here to see it for yourself!’ which then takes you to a vibrantmedia page (which seems to be a broken link at time of writing).
The word Internet, meanwhile, offers you ‘DIRECWAY – Internet Access — Surf the Web via satellite. Available nationwide. Only $69.97 down and $99 a month. Includes the Direcway System and professional installation. Always on connection requires no phone line’. That link does, after a lot of waiting while the request goes through the Vibrant Media servers, take you to a Yahoo webpage where you can subscribe to Direcway, if the feeling so takes you.
This is cheeky, though perhaps not offensive. What’s also cheeky is that you don’t have any easy way of telling where the link might be taking you: Right-clicking on the link appears to be disabled. Neither can you view in the status bar of your browser the link in question: instead there lurks more text along the lines of the above.
This reminds me of something called RichLink from Sentius, which does pretty much the same thing (well, officially, ‘software that automates the management of links and metadata to deliver point-of-interest content to end-users at the word, phrase, and metadata level for any Web application’). If I recall it used to provide medical definitions for the Reuters Health website.
Too early to make a judgement, but my first stab is that in a world increasingly annoyed by popups, the danger of alienating readers with links that aren’t anything more than ads of questionable relevance seems to be quite high.