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Internet Culture / By Lauren Keating / August 15, 1:19 PM

Man apologizes for creating the most hated thing about the Internet

The most annoying thing about browsing the Internet is those pesky pop-up ads that prevent seamless hours of procrastination. Long before the days of pop-up blocks, one man wrote the code that would create advertisements in new windows. And now that man is saying he's sorry.

"I'm sorry. Our intentions were good," pop-up creator Ethan Zuckerman says.

Zuckerman was a designer and programmer working at Tripod.com, an early web-hosting service, when a company freaked out after having their car brand linked to a sex ad. The unspecified manufacturer purchased a banner ad on a page that "celebrated anal sex," which got Zuckerman's company excited over the idea for advertisements that pop-up in a new window.

Zuckerman wrote the code for the first pop-up, which he says 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."

This resulted in the creation of the most hated nuisance of the Internet. It wasn't until Netscape and Opera added the first pop-up blockers that saved us from the annoying ads.

Even though pop-up ads are hated, they were a crucial aspect of advertising for the web. Zuckerman in an essay writes that he thinks that there is now a better way.  

"I have come to believe that advertising is the original sin of the web," he writes. "The fallen state of our Internet is a direct, if unintentional, consequence of choosing advertising as the default model to support online content and services.

He says the flaw in the online advertising business model that most ads compete for your attention; they do not follow your interests.

Targeted ads are the best way for company's to be successful when it comes to web advertising. Google ads, for example targets with intent; consumers click on Google ads when they intend on buying that new bag or new car. Facebook targets to demographics, which is marginally better than not targeting. Facebook last quarter made $2.91 billion in revenue, with a profit of $791 million. That's a profit margin of 27 percent.

Zuckerman argues that more data will make these targeted ads more effective, even though the thought of giving up more privacy on the web makes us wary.

Zuckerman notes that the online advertising business model is flawed. He proposed the model should charge for services and protect users' privacy, such as an ad-free Facebook that would charge a subscription rate and promise to not resell your personal content.

"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.

Zuckerman says there is no "right answer" to figuring out how we pay for the Internet, but admits the currently model needs to be rebooted.

 

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