It would be hypocritical to come down too hard on advertising. After all, I make my living from newspapers, magazines, Web sites and TV and radio stations, which, in turn, make most of their money from advertising.
I can tolerate most advertising. Print ads don't particularly bother me because I can easily skip over them. Radio and TV ads interrupt programming, but they seem like a reasonable price to "pay" for free commercial broadcasts.
Internet advertising is a mixed bag. I love the fact that most newspapers, magazines and Web publishers display their editorial content for free. And I realize that it can continue only if they find ways to profit--or at least break even--from putting content on the Internet. Companies that sell or display Internet advertising had hoped to make enough money from banner ads. But banners are easy to ignore, so advertisers and media companies have come up with new ways to get our attention.
CNet (http://www.news.com) features what it calls "messaging plus units." Instead of a small banner at the top of a page, there is a large rectangular box in the middle of the site's editorial pages. The box is like a site within a site. You can click around and get information without leaving the page you're on. There can be far more information than you'll get in a banner ad. That's good for the advertiser and, if you're actually interested, could be good for you as well. And because they don't necessarily take you to another site, such ads are good for CNet because people stay at the site. Although the box takes up more space than a banner ad, I don't find it particularly annoying.
I do get annoyed by "pop-up" windows. A pop-up window, as the name implies, is a separate browser window that pops up over the site you're visiting. They're a lot more in your face than banner ads because they don't go away when you leave the Web page. To make them disappear, you have to go out of your way to close them.
The latest trick is "pop-under" ads. Like pop-up ads, they are triggered when you visit certain Web sites and appear in a separate window. But you don't see the window while you're at the site. It's hiding behind the browser window and appears only when you close or move that window. As with a pop-up, you have to click to close the pop-under window, which means you have to pay attention to it, even if just to get it off your screen.
These types of ads are now on Web sites of major media organizations, including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
X10.Com, the Web's most prolific pop-under advertiser, has become notorious for using the technique to promote its $79 wireless video camera. The company says the ads have been effective. Yet it apparently recognizes that they annoy a lot of users; the company has posted a page at http://www.x10.com/x10ads.htm that attempts to justify the technique. The page also includes an opportunity to download a cookie that blocks the ad for 30 days. It works.
There is also software designed to control Internet ads. Panicware Inc. (http://www.panicware.com) offers Pop-Up Stopper, a free program that allows users to block pop-up and pop-under ads and prevent Web sites from sending you to another site when you exit. The software, which I tested with Internet Explorer, does a good job. My only complaint is that the program doesn't allow you to open additional browser windows.
Ultimately, it's my hope that the advertising industry makes these control programs unnecessary by coming up with creative ads that are effective and not obnoxious.
Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour.