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A Nice Online-Ad 101 Post

June 4th, 2008

I stumbled across an interesting post written by Ian Thomas from Microsoft — Online Advertising Business 101, Part I – The Online Advertising Value Chain. It’s a great basic read for anyone who wants to start with the basics of who does what in our industry.

I will point out that Ian is clearly on the tech side of the fence though — he draws the industry as a flow of impressions from publishers to advertisers, whereas most media focused folks will think of the reverse — money flowing from the advertiser to the publisher. If you have no clue what I”m talking about, check out my old post: Business or Tech.

For publishers one of the must frustrating aspects of dealing with ad-networks is probably the powerless feeling you get when one of your user’s complains about a particularly offensive, annoying or suggestive ad that they just saw. So what can you do? Here’s a quick and easy method to provide a “report this ad” button for your site.
Here’s the normal process of ad call:
– You put a tag on your page, script src=””>
– Browser requests javascript, and it returns something like — document.write(‘‘);
– User sees

So how do you create a button to ‘report an ad’? Simple! You simply create a wrapper function around document.write() to capture all the output. Then, all you need to do is a little bit of smart javascript and badabing you’re done! Credits to this page for the document.write JS;.

So how do you wrap document.write()? Rather easily! Check it out this IE specific example:

        var documentWrite = document.write ;
        var createWrapper = function(s){
                writeOutput = writeOutput + "\\n\\n" + s;
                return s;

        document.write = function(s){
               documentWrite(createWrapper(s) );

As you can see this is remarkably simple. Every time document.write() is called we simply append the call to a variable ‘writeOutput’, which you can then do whatever you want with. I’ve created a fully functional example that has the full browser compatible javascript. It takes the writeOutput from an RMX Direct tag and puts it in a textarea at the top. You can grab the javascript by just viewing the source. The PHP code for “report_ad.php” is extremely simple:

$adcontent = htmlentities($_POST["adcontent"]);
$report = htmlentities($_POST["addetails"]);

echo "<b>Here is the email you send yourself:</b><br><br>\n";

echo "<b>Subject:</b> Uhoh, someone reported an ad!<br>\n";
echo "<b>User Comments:</b> $report<br><br> Here is what happened on the page when the user saw the ad:<br><br>\n";

Now, it’s important to realize that this isn’t a perfect way to do it. If the advertiser is wrapping content in an IFRAME then this method will simply show you the IFRAME source. Also, I’m not sure this will work for all networks. I’ve tested it with RMX Direct and Fastclick/Valueclick and it seems to work for both. In the document.write() output you can clearly see the source for the flash files being served. In any case, I hope this will be useful to somebody.

To pop or not to pop

March 9th, 2007

Over the past two years at Right Media on more than one occasion have I talked to an end user who was frustrated with ‘popups’ on his computer. The emails that have been sent can become pretty extreme. I remember notes like, “Burn in hell, I hope you die”, “Stop those f*cking popups you f*ckers” or “Get this sh*t off my computer!!” (you get the point). Although these are rather extreme responses, there is most definitely a huge misunderstanding of popups out in the world.

First off, what is a popup? In it’s simplest form, it’s an advertisement that is shown in it’s own window. Popups get onto your computer via two methods: the websites you visit or some software installed on your machine. In my mind, it’s the latter that has given popups such a terrible terrible name. There is nothing more despicable than spyware and I am strongly opposed to any valueless (or minimal value) software that later bombards you with popups.

Ok, we’ll write about desktop software later (trust me, I’ll get all riled up if I start now), so lets stick to normal websites for now. So first, the most basic question, why do websites show popups? It’s not difficult for them to integrate an ad in their page, so why do they have to open a new one? Well, the answer is pretty simple — popups work. People click, convert, interact, they do everything more with popups, even though they hate them! I’ve never quite understood this myself, but basically you are 10 to 100 times more likely to do something with a popup compared to a simple banner ad, and this translates into vastly higher rates.

If you think about it, it kind of makes sense. Simple ads blend into pages and are easy to miss. You might be flipping through pages quickly and not paying attention to any of the ads. Popups, and especially popunders break the normal flow of your web browsing. A popup requires an action (closure of the window), and a popunder gives a quick “hey whatsup” when you think you’re ending your browsing session. Now web sites need to make money off the content they provide to you (generally for free), and hence they want to make the most they can from the ads they show you. If a site can double it’s revenue by showing you one popup for each session, then of course there’s a huge incentive for them to do this.

So I’m starting to sound pro-popup… well, I’m not! Here’s the thing, I have popup blocking software installed, yet I continue to get popups from webpages. I have actively set my browser to not show me popup advertisements, yet I still do? Isn’t there something wrong there? Lets think about it this way:

1 – Do I have the right to refuse popup advertisements from a website who’s content I get for free?
2 – Does the advertiser have a right to bypass my popup blocker?

Well, I’m shitty at legaleze, so lets just think morally here. On the first, I think that I have the right to refuse popup ads. I’m opening a site in one window, I give the site the rights to display content in that one window. If they want, they can show ads all throughout the damn window, if they’re site is unusable I’ll just stop visiting. For example, check out (screenshot below). The number of ads is just ridiculous. But here’s the thing, it doesn’t actually bother me, because I’ll simply go out and find another website that can supply me with cheatcodes that isn’t going to bombard me with ads. So in short — yes, I feel strongly that I have the right to block popups. Just think about it technically. On a windows machine, every new window is a new application process — so in essence, I’m saying I have the right to block a website from launching a new application process on my machine.

Ads on

So on #2 – My stance here is pretty similar to #1 — A popup is a new window. When I load a web page then I grant that page the right to place content in that space. I do not give them the right to open a new process and throw popups in there! I’ve seen some really raunchy popups, and no, you do not have the right to bypass my software! Earlier today I got an extremely raunchy ad for ‘sex-search’ (I won’t post a screenshot), but lets say the url is here in case you’re curious: sex search landing page.

Ok, so basically I’ve just said that I think popups shouldn’t exist — well — not really. Here’s my proposal, rather, a ‘truce’. People hate popups, but they work, they make money, so it makes sense for the websites we like to better monetize their inventory so that they can provide us with better content.

  1. Publishes will limit popups to once per user per day
  2. Publishers will allow users to ‘opt-out’ of popups
  3. Publishers will ensure that all popup ads are ‘clean’, quality advertisements (see screenshot below)
  4. Users will remove popup bypassing software, or, ‘opt-in’ to popups for their favorite websites

Ok, so I’m dreaming and such a ‘truce’ will never happen. First off, the misperception out there about popups, people hate them and will probably never actively ‘opt-in’ to receive them from quality websites. Second, there will always be that site (or many many of them) that try to take advantage of this truce. What I can hopefully motivate you to think about is who’s getting paid for you to look at that pop. Assuming you’re clean of adware, it’s probably the website you just visited, so don’t complain too much, you’re browsing the web for free aren’t you! Site owners — Don’t abuse the power you have over a user’s browser. If you do choose to do popups, limit the frequency and keep them tasteful.