A Brief History of the Scourge of the Internet: The Pop Up

Pop Up Ad Example
The pop up ad’s creator has mixed feelings about his invention.

The hated pop-up ad has a fascinating origin story. The original creator was Ethan Zuckerman, who has since apologized profusely for unleashing such an intrusive form of advertising into the world. His explanation of how he came to write the code for such a universally reviled feature of the Internet reveals a lot about our modern culture and the sacrifices we make for free web content.

Mr. Zuckerman worked for Tripod.com, an early web hosting service similar to GeoCities, Squarespace or Wix. Like most early Internet start-ups, Tripod was created without a solid plan for monetizing. Its founders simply wanted to make a cool product that they would use themselves. Eventually, they realized they needed to bring money in if they wanted to keep their product available, and they sent Zuckerman and his team to convince major corporations to buy advertising spots directly on Tripod’s websites.

Because this took place in the early 1990s, the Internet was seen as a much different place. Zuckerman’s team created a program to place advertisements on random user pages and headed out to pitch a few major clients without thinking about what type of content might pop up during their presentation. Unfortunately, not all of Tripod’s users were creating business-friendly personal pages, and Zuckerman ended up displaying the potential client’s branded advertisement on a page with distinctly NSFW content.

After that embarrassing incident, the team scrambled to create an alternative. It wasn’t feasible or in line with Tripod’s culture to start censoring user pages, but they couldn’t sell clients on placing ads on sites with adult content. As a solution, they created the first pop-up ad as a way to get users looking at company messaging without companies being associated with inappropriate user content, and Tripod made big bucks from its major accounts.

Today, Zuckerman worries that his creation sent Internet culture in a negative direction. In a recent essay published in the Atlantic, he expressed his opinion that by chasing advertiser dollars rather than user fees, Tripod set a precedent for content that appears free to users. He argues that, as the death of the pop-up ad shows, we want an uninterrupted web experience. Because the Internet isn’t free to run, users simply accept behind-the-scenes monitoring and data capture from Facebook, AdWords and other advertising behemoths.

What do you think? Should we accept a free, ad-supported Internet or push for more subscription models? Would you rather return to pop-up ads or stick with targeted banner ads and integrated content? Contact me to let me know your thoughts on web-based advertising.

Facebook’s Growing Relationship With TV Audiences

Whether you are watching your favorite television show, sporting event, award show, or political debate, research has shown that there are high chances that you interact with friends, family and strangers over social media. More specifically, you are likely using Facebook or Twitter. These big social platforms are well aware that usage spikes during primetime events and they have actively sought out ways to capitalize on this knowledge. Currently, Facebook is on the offensive and now offering viewers new ways to interact while watching these big, primetime events. In many ways, Facebook seems to be leaving Twitter in the dust although the microblogging giant shouldn’t be underestimated.

According to Facebook’s research team, 85 percent of viewers who connect to social media while watching TV are connecting to Facebook. This shows that out of Facebook’s 213 million (let that number sink in) monthly active users, many are glued to their mobile devices and computers.

Facebook and Twitter now remain locked in an ongoing battle over control of this new frontier of the digital mixing in with the world of television. Experts call this use of devices, often mobile, to enhance the viewing experience, “second screen” viewing. This is huge and it presents unique opportunities to digital advertisers worldwide. Social media has made the collection of data, which is always necessary to determine where, when and to whom an ad will be served.

For a while, Twitter seemed like the ideal platform for this due to the ability to quickly and continuously post short blurbs that can be connected via hashtags to form a larger more general conversation around a certain topic. Agencies can easily collect data on the participants and Twitter can facilitate these goals. The ease with which Twitter can be incorporated into live events, particularly on Television, gave rise to “live tweeting,” which is the act of posting on Twitter throughout the course of an event to share what’s happening as well as your thoughts/reactions. During events like political debates, as we witnessed in the previous election cycles after the rise of platforms like Twitter (c. 2007+), regular users as well as more influential users like celebrities and politicians would frequently engage in live-tweeting these types of events. During the primary debates for the Republican and Democratic parties this year, live tweeting has been incredibly popular. More so when it is a figure like Donald Trump live tweeting throughout the first debate round for the Democrats.

Facebook, however, has started rolling out new ways and new partnerships with major events which they hope will only increase usage of the social network during prime hours. If you watched the last debates for either party, you will notice that Facebook played a big role in both which included having their name and logo plastered everywhere. Had you logged onto Facebook around the time of the debates your status box would include a section for you to say whether you were watching or not. One can only imagine how this information would be useful for Facebook and debate organizers (especially the parties themselves) in the future. As you post a status, you can check yourself as watching the debate and this opens up a whole new connection to others who are following the same thing through Facebook’s trending feature. On Twitter, during the first Democratic debate, #DemDebate was the official trending tag and even Republican candidates were taking advantage of it to interact with Twitter’s user base. For now, it seems like official hashtags, which are powerful in their own ways, are the biggest perk that Twitter has. Hashtagging is not as popular on Facebook being that it is a newer function on there.

Facebook has rolled out 3 new ways for users to interact, and on the other end, these are also 3 new ways that broadcasters can enhance the viewer’s experience by making them feel more connected to what they are watching.

1. Hashtag based polling and voting – Facebook is allowing broadcasters to gauge the audience’s thoughts and interactions in real time by being able to conduct polls during a live broadcast. The results and responses can also be integrated into the broadcast itself.

2. Uploading videos and photosA great example of this feature comes from the last debates where users were able to submit video questions to the candidates which were then featured on air. Late night talk shows have also begun using this feature to generate more engagement from their regular viewers.

3. Event specific icons This feature was pioneered by Twitter and Facebook is not reluctant to incorporate it either. Award shows like the Emmy’s get their own custom icon which appears when you post something as you watch it (Facebook asks if you are), and for the recent debates both parties had their animal symbols turned into icons.

Facebook Telescope

All of this is made possible by a partnership between Facebook and Telescope.tv, a platform that facilitates live user engagement during major television and digital streaming events.