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Advertising The Internet

The Man Responsible For Pop-Up Ads On Building a Better Web 135

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-special-place-in-hell dept.
An anonymous reader writes Above all, Ethan Zuckerman wants you to know that he is sorry. In the mid-1990s, Zuckerman was working as a designer and programmer for Tripod.com when he wrote the code for the first pop-up ad. He says: "At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising. The model that got us acquired was analyzing users’ personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad. It was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page’s content. Specifically, we came up with it when a major car company freaked out that they’d bought a banner ad on a page that celebrated anal sex. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good."
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The Man Responsible For Pop-Up Ads On Building a Better Web

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  • by Travis Mansbridge (830557) on Friday August 15, 2014 @07:13AM (#47676595)
    As soon as the tools were added for a web page to open a new web-page, I'm sure pop-ups were "invented" simultaneously across numerous ad agencies.
    • As soon as the tools were added for a web page to open a new web-page, I'm sure pop-ups were "invented" simultaneously across numerous ad agencies.

      On the other hand, if somebody confesses to such a heinous crime it's probably worth at least giving their sincerity the benefit of the doubt...

      This isn't like people fighting over a patent or the glory associated with some scientific discovery. This is a guy voluntarily admitting that he's guilty of a sin for which there will not, must not, and can not, be any forgiveness.

      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by Immerman (2627577)

        I can confess to the holocaust, that doesn't mean the crime actually rests on my shoulders. Hell, I wasn't even born at the time.

        • Not all confessions are true; but the incentive to lie about having done good is obvious, while the incentive to lie about having done bad is less clear.
      • by TWX (665546)
        Heh. The screenwriter that took L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth and turned it into a movie later apologized too; apparently he met a hot girl that turned out to be a scientologist and she convinced him to do the screenplay, and his libido obliged.
        • What's wrong with Battlefield Earth? That movie is freaking hilarious. I am rather angry that they removed one of my favorite scenes from the DVD -- the one where they are debating if humans can fly and they drop a guy off a cliff to find out.
        • He made great improvements on the book.

          • He made great improvements on the book.

            Improvements along the same way we see many improvements in software. Things are certainly different and a few changes are enjoyable, but some changes leave me longing for the original.

  • by ConfusedVorlon (657247) on Friday August 15, 2014 @07:16AM (#47676607) Homepage

    A very expensive patent that was litigated aggressively...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    [quote] Our intentions were good. [/quote]
    FVO "good" meaning "to make money". Not unsurprising in the Capitalist America, but still a bit too easy.

    Not that I care much, if not him someone else would've thought this one up. Pop-overs, pop-unders, pop-ins, insertions, insertions by your own ISP, unbidden playing of something VERY LOUD, possibly with video attached, what-have-you. There's something about advertising that invariably brings out the most obnoxious in the advertiser. Or even outright evil, like ad

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Agreed. Advertiser's intentions are never good. Their intention is to manipulate people at a subconscious emotional level in order to get their money. "Good" is when you donate to charity, not when you manipulate people.

      • by Nite_Hawk (1304)

        I disagree, though only to a limited extent. There is a legitimate net good that can be accomplished by connecting people who need goods and people who make goods. What form this takes has changed dramatically over the years, but it's important that people ultimately know where they can go to get something they want/need to improve their lives (be that medicine, food, entertainment, etc).

        Having said this, I generally agree with you that advertising has numerous dark sides and often manipulation is involve

        • by TWX (665546)
          I look at it that nothing is free. We pay for what's "free" in other-than-currency means, but we still pay. Advertising and the subscriber's or reader's looking at it has been a way to pay for "free" newspapers for well over a hundred years. Attempting to adapt it to the world wide web model was no surprise.

          And for those that want to argue that FOSS is truly free, anyone that has spent hours and hours of their time attempting to get something to work that would have worked out-of-the-box with a commer
          • Advertising and the subscriber's or reader's looking at it has been a way to pay for "free" newspapers for well over a hundred years.

            My kingdom for mod points.

            I don't install AdBlock Plus, for exactly that reason. I accept the implied contract that I am getting "free" content in exchange for being willing to at least be aware that there are ads trying to get my attention.

            Now having said that, pop-up ads and their ilk get blocked by NoScript and FlashBlock. I accept ads in the margins of online content, just as I accept ads in the margins of printed content; I accept (somewhat less cheerfully) inline ads that interrupt content just as I

        • by Immerman (2627577)

          > I think the best you can do is try to teach people to understand when they are being manipulated and hopefully it will some day cease to be profitable enough for folks to continue doing (one can always hope).

          I can do you one better - we could ban ALL attempts at psychological manipulation in advertising, restricting ads to only strictly factual statements about the product. If that's a bit to vague for we could start with a set of concrete guidelines: No sexuality or sensuality of any form will be por

          • Not to troll, but the problem with restricting advertising is that you are restricting free speech. This is a legitimate concern: who makes the decisions and on what basis when you start down the path of "strictly factual"? It's not that simple. Any number of repressive governments across the globe have laws against publicizing "false" statements but these laws are clearly used to suppress anything they don't like.

      • by Sentrion (964745)

        Nowadays even the charities have gone too far with some of the obnoxious lengths they go to in order to extract one more dollar from their donors. Shortly before my mother died she began sending large monetary gifts to a few of her favorite charities. She ended up getting non-stop calls all throughout the day and night from dozens of charities pleading for her to contribute. Some of them were sneaky, with recurring auto debit agreements buried in fine print. On the phone they were very pushy, fast talki

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        Really so Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Feed the Children, St. Jude Children's Hospital, and the United Way are all evil?
        ""Good" is when you donate to charity, not when you manipulate people"

        Is it good to manipulate people to donate to your charity?

        • The United Way _is_ absolutely evil.

          They do NOTHING. All they do is distribute the money they collect. And keep 70%+ for admin.

          Also note the salary of the president of the United Way. There are many companies where you will simply never advance unless you allow them to take money from your check for the United Way. Big cheeses at these companies are rewarded with the no-show president of the United Way job (and million dollar salary) after they retire from their primary job.

          In other words 'The United

    • You're factually right, of course, except for the religion part. Indeed, it's worse than religion, because you can always free yourself of religion, while on the other side and for the time being, capitalism is the one currently available world operating system, wherein the only thing keeping everything going (including the world itself) is profit – until the world finds another, better operating system.

    • Not that I care much, if not him someone else would've thought this one up. Pop-overs, pop-unders, pop-ins, insertions, insertions by your own ISP, unbidden playing of something VERY LOUD, possibly with video attached, what-have-you. There's something about advertising that invariably brings out the most obnoxious in the advertiser. Or even outright evil, like advertising toolbars and other malware.

      Don't worry, the free market will fix it!

  • by BarbaraHudson (3785311) <barbarahudsononline@gma i l .com> on Friday August 15, 2014 @07:20AM (#47676625) Journal
    ... which led to the pop-under, etc. On the bright side, this led to higher adoption rates for browsers that supported ad-blockers, noscript, etc. So if it weren't for this guy, Firefox would probably never have gained the traction it did, and the vast majority of people would be stuck on IE.
    • by bunratty (545641) on Friday August 15, 2014 @07:55AM (#47676769)

      I never thought of that as the reason that Firefox became popular (and why Mozilla was quickly becoming popular before that). Back then, Mozilla's built-in popup blocker blocked nearly all popups. IE didn't have any corresponding feature? That sure would be a compelling reason to switch browsers!

      When I read the article, the thought I had was that I installed AdBlock Plus only to disable the popups that Firefox didn't block with its built-in blocker when popups evolved to get around it. Is there still not an ad blocker that blocks only the most annoying ads such as popups?

      • When I read the article, the thought I had was that I installed AdBlock Plus only to disable the popups that Firefox didn't block with its built-in blocker when popups evolved to get around it. Is there still not an ad blocker that blocks only the most annoying ads such as popups?

        AdBlock Plus has the option to block everything, or allow unobtrusive ads. Presumably the latter option will help convince people to tone down the spam while allowing ad revenue.

        • by bunratty (545641)
          Ah, it took me a while to find it. Under Filter preferences... there's a checkbox for "Allow some non-intrusive advertising." It was already checked when I first found it -- the documentation says it's enabled by default. It doesn't seem to allow much advertising through, yet. Maybe if more advertisers read about the feature [adblockplus.org] and sign the Acceptible Ads Manifesto [acceptableads.org] that will change.
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        There were a wide selection of helpful pop-up blocking toolbars for IE.

  • good intentions? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by radja (58949) on Friday August 15, 2014 @07:23AM (#47676639) Homepage

    the intention was to show advertising to people. Steal their bandwidth and hide real content without getting approval. The intentions of advertising on the web were never good, they were evil. And all that because some companies want to line their pockets.

    • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Friday August 15, 2014 @07:29AM (#47676663)

      Not entirely evil. Thanks to those ad-funded companies like Tripod, many people were able to create websites that could not otherwise have afforded to do so. Web hosting was expensive back in those days, and even now it'll still cost you at least ten quid a month or so, which is a significant amount for some. Even today we continue to reap the benefits of advertising-based businesses for all manner of useful things - even though the ads themselves are so loathed that many users find ways to block them.

      • by ganjadude (952775)
        hell i learned how to code on tripod (and geoshitties before that) as a teen it made sense, didnt cost my parents any money and i got to tinker.
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Back in the day most people had free web space through their ISPs.

        I'm with HostPresto for £1.60/month. Okay, I pay for a domain name on top, something like £10/year. PHP, databases, easy install control panel etc. Hosting is dirt cheap now. Google Sites is free too, and has no ads. Well, Google tracks visitors, but there are certainly no pop-ups or banners.

        Tripod was always just shit I'm afraid. Noobs tricked into using an "easy" platform that spammed their visitors. At the very leas

      • Web hosting was expensive back in those days, and even now it'll still cost you at least ten quid a month or so.

        Not true. All it cost, then or now, was a DSL-or-better Internet connection (that you wanted whether you had your own website or not)*, free account with a dynamic DNS service and electricity to keep your home computer running 24/7.

        (* OK, I admit Tripod may have been useful in the dial-up era, but still...)

      • by BillX (307153)

        Ads were not an original part of free web hosts' user agreements during much of the the Web 1.0 bubble (only the usual "we can change this agreement whenever we like" clause) - and in the area where a static 468x60 banner was the gold standard, few could have forseen the evilness that was the popup ad. (Disclaimer: I tried Geocities and Angelfire circa 1997. Angelfire at the time appeared to be a medical transcription company that happened to have some server space left over.)

    • I think you took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up on http. If you want to pay cash to have discussions, you want to be on nntp newsgroups.
      Here on the web, ads pay for the sites, such as this one, so you don't have to pay cash.

      • by radja (58949)

        the site is paid for by putting ads among the content. Luckily, I have taken measures to prevent those ads stealing bandwidth. I have never consented to being shown ads, its purely between the site and the advertiser. The viewer is not part of the deal, so don't bother the viewer with ads, unless he asked for it.

        • by F.Ultra (1673484)
          Well you asked for the site, and the site is funded by ads so in some sort of way you did ask for the ads.
          • by radja (58949)

            I'm not responsible for the site's funding. I AM responsible for the bandwidth I pay for. I'm also responsible for how the site is rendered on my screen. I did not ask for ads, either implicitly or explicitly, and was never asked if I wanted to see ads. Advertising is also an attack vector, so blocking ads is also about my safety.

            • You knew that at Slashdot.org, you'd find "news for nerds". You intentionally loaded Slashdot to get what is on Slashdot (news, discussion).
              You knew that at Slashdot.org, you'd find ads. You intentionally loaded Slashdot to get what is on Slashdot (ads).

              So yes, you did ask for the ads, just as much as you asked for the discussion - you intentionally requested a page that has those things.

              If you want a discussion without ads, nntp or IRC is for you. You are welcome to pay Dejanews directly rather than payi

              • You knew that at Slashdot.org, you'd find "news for nerds". You intentionally loaded Slashdot to get what is on Slashdot (news, discussion).
                You knew that at Slashdot.org, you'd find ads. You intentionally loaded Slashdot to get what is on Slashdot (ads).

                While you did know that you'd find ads, that doesn't imply that you "intentionally loaded Slashdot to get ... ads". You just wanted the news & discussion; the ads are an unwanted side effect, impurities in the data stream. You agreed to accept whatever the site sends you in response to your request, but that doesn't imply you have to display it, run embedded code, or follow the links. A good web-browser with plugins like Ad Block will help to refine the signal from the noise, simultaneously improving bo

  • Advertising.... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    NEVER has good intentions. EVER

    Your apology will never be enough to excuse what you wrought

  • Why sweat it? This was the obvious next step in advertising. If he hadn't of done it, someone else would have done it a few days/weeks/months later.
  • Makes sense (Score:5, Funny)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Friday August 15, 2014 @07:26AM (#47676657)

    We finally have it confirmed that pop-up ads are the result of anal sex. Makes sense to me.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't think that's fair; anal sex can be enjoyable sometimes, pop up ads never are!

  • i appreciate the apology. i imagine steve buscemi crossing his name off a list with a crayon and then smearing lipstick all over his face.
  • ... it's blocked by a pop-up.
  • by Vitriol+Angst (458300) on Friday August 15, 2014 @07:45AM (#47676719)

    But I have to admit that if my intentions were ever good, I wasn't actually marketing anymore. I'm glad that he's apologetic, but he was in marketing. You don't swing a pitchfork in Hell and pretend you don't work there.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 15, 2014 @07:46AM (#47676725)

    This technology sounds totally cool. I'd like to see them use it to make pop-up ads on the shitty Slashdot Beta site. They could make pop-up ads to counter the user's extreme boredom as this user waits for the shitty Beta site's page and all its shitty JavaScript and CSS crap to initially load. Then they make pop-up ads on to record the exact back-button click when the person notices that it's the shitty Beta site rather than the Classic site, and the person's anger starts to grow. The pop-up ads would progressively cause the user's anger to turn into madness, and then finally utter and complete disappointment and despair once the shitty Beta site has finally loaded. The pop-up ads could also cause the formation and flow of the very first of many teardrops to cascade down this poor victim's cheeks as the user struggles in vain to read the stories' small text with poor contrast. The total anguish could be examined in excruciating detail, so the awful nature of the Slashdot Beta site could be truly comprehended.

  • Facebook (Score:4, Funny)

    by Stele (9443) on Friday August 15, 2014 @08:05AM (#47676803) Homepage

    And then he went on to write Facebook. I'm not sure I like this guy.

  • by thegarbz (1787294) on Friday August 15, 2014 @08:08AM (#47676819)

    There are no such things as good intentions, at least not for users.

    Marketing is about manipulating and about out-shouting the competition. This is not at all restricted to the internet. The obvious progression on the internet was stationary ads, animated ads, ads that pop up over content, ads that were indistinguishable from content, ads that bypassed adblockers, ads that started playing sound, ads that start playing videos, and now ads that pop up in the middle of videos.

    We saw the same thing with TVs, ads in the ad breaks, louder ads in the ad breaks, longer ad breaks, ads popping up at the bottom of the screen during content, ads featured in content (not all actors like drinking Coke).

    Oh and on billboards which were painted on the side of buildings, then free standing, then free standing with lots of lighting shining on them, and now a back lit video billboard which is blindingly bright at night.

    Sorry buddy but you never had "good intentions".

    • Look at the bright side of online ads. If you don't like something and want it changed, instead of uselessly complaining to the site owner, you can complain where it really hurts - the advertisers. Works in the real world all the time. Popups suck, no question about it, but a banner or sidebar, if it's paying for the site, I'm not going to complain. Noisy video ads, on the other hand ... can't close the tab fast enough.
    • It is theoretically possible to do marketing with good intentions -- there are people who would really benefit from a product but don't know about it. If you could target your ads to exactly those customers, well enough to make up for showing the ad to people who wouldn't benefit from it and especially not to people who would buy it and regret it, then it would be a net positive.

      Of course you'd need to get a well-intentioned marketer working for a well-intentioned company who can tell the difference between

  • At the end of the day -- you are still a worm Zuckerman
  • ... is paved with good intentions.
  • The mere fact that they had purchased the ad on that particular page shows their intentions weren't good at all but strictly profit motivated. A "good" response would have been to remove the ad, not create a pop-up. On the other hand, the car company should have fired them.
    • by F.Ultra (1673484)
      They? He worked for Tripod.com, they where a web hosting company. The car company bought ads to be shown on the sites that Tripod.com hosted. Removing that particular ad might have been a working solution but he just brought up the one case that made them rethink how they placed ads on their hosted sites, not that they _had_ to use popups due to this very car ad.
  • First we hang you and your kind.

    Then we'll work something out.

  • And is it the preferred brand of, well, drivers or passengers?

  • ... freaked out about ads on anal sex site? Why? They didn't have a model equipped with heated seats?

  • The model that got us acquired was analyzing users’ personal homepages so we could better target ads to them.

    **of course**

    that's the narrative for most tech companies that we see in the media being depicted as "successful"

    that's the model and everyone knows it...this guy was a fool if he didn't see it (but i accept his apology!)

    seriously, /. the above quotation explains quite a bit of conflict in tech today...it's about **incentives**

    with the above business model, the incentives all go in the wrong di

  • Bless ye my son. After your confession, write 10 quicksort algorithms and ye will be absolved of thy sins.

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