You might be appeased to hear that Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT and principal research scientist at MIT’s Media Lab has apologized in his article in The Atlantic for the invention of the pop-up ad.
This is the person you should be throwing eggs at for all the times you had to explain why the “HOT LADIES IN YOUR CITY WANTS TO MEET YOU” to your mothers and girlfriends. All those, “No! This is a pop-up! I don’t need to click at it for it to show up! Really! No! I didn’t click on that [deleted] elongation surgery advertisement either!”
The monstrosity was created while Zuckerman was working for Tripod.com in the 1990s. The company earned its revenue by being a webpage-hosting provider, proto-social network and essentially, advertising. A problem occurred when the advertiser worried that consumers will associate between the service or product they’re selling, to the page’s content. Thus, the pop-up ad was born.
“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.” – Ethan Zuckerman
It should not be a surprise. Advertising is what funds internet content. Ceglowski, developer of Pinboard and writer for idlewords, describes the internet as “Christmas for advertisers. Suddenly you could know exactly who was looking at your ads, and you could target them by age, sex, income, location almost any criterian you wanted”.
He continued, “One of the first banner ads had a click-through rate of 78%. That’s mind-boggling. Do you know what two words were on that banner ad?”
Tripod provides free (ad supported) web hosting services for users from around the world. In 1996, Malaysian activists for Malaysia’s opposition political group were using Tripod as a means of expressing their views. Incidentally, this prompted Zuckerman to re-evaluate their model as they are not making money from advertising to Malaysian users. Thankfully, they did not try to limit their users to people residing in the US.
Advertising is one of the consequence that we, as users, have to suffer through in order to access the unlimited data and information for free. As Zuckerman had so succinctly concluded, “There is no single “right answer” to the question of how we pay for the tool that lets us share knowledge, opinions, ideas, and photos of cute cats. Whether we embrace micropayments, membership, crowdfunding, or any other model, there is bound to be unintended consequences. But 20 years in to the ad-supported web, we can see that our current model is bad, broken, and corrosive. It’s time to start paying for privacy, to support services we love, and to abandon those that are free, but sell us—the users and our attention—as the product.”
What do you think? Are you ready to pay for an advertisement-less Facebook? Or that picture of the cute bunny? I know I’d pay for the bunny picture.