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TV ads and Information Architecture

Tuesday 3 February, 2004 ( 1:35PM GMT)

Hey! Woo! TV style adverts in-between web pages. How very special.

So. Let's see... You expect me, with my humble modem (with a download rate of 5-7k a second) to wait about five minutes to see a 30 second video clip of something I have no interest in?

OK, I admit, I do see the point in advertising, even the need for it, but things are getting a little out of hand.

Even with a broadband internet connection the wait is too long. But even with the option to skip the advert, the most important flaw to this whole idea is that putting adverts in-between web pages (that is, when you navigate somewhere you get a full-page advert first) breaks the flow of surfing.

I used to frequent a certain popular music web site. But then it started taking me to pages I never wanted to go to - namely adverts that I either had to watch or select 'skip' to get to the page I asked for. I really couldn't be bothered with the hassle (and we're only talking about a few more seconds of my time here) so I stopped going there and went somewhere else.

This stupendously stupid idea highlights an important principle in web design: The quicker it is for a user to find the information they are looking for, the more successful a site will be.

This isn't just a case of page design, whereby lighter (and therefore quicker to download) pages can be achieved by using Web Standard HTML and CSS for example, it is also a case of site design. Information Architecture.

It comes down to the good old '2 click' rule, whereby users are rarely interested in getting to the information the want in more that two 'clicks'. The case for specifically two 'clicks' is debatable, but it is certainly a fact that the harder a user has to work (as in the more 'clicks' they have to make) to find information, the less likely they are to look for it.

Putting something unexpected and requiring further unexpected work at the destination of a link is plainly foolhardy.


Comment 1

And that would be why I have plug-ins turned off in Opera until I have a need for one.

So said [Anon] on Tuesday 3 February, 2004 at 2:39PM GMT.

Comment 2

That would certainly stop such an advert from showing, but it wouldn't solve the problem of being redirected to the page where the advert is being displayed.

So said Patrick on Tuesday 3 February, 2004 at 3:10PM GMT.

Comment 3

I think its a great idea.

So said Eric P. Unicast on Tuesday 3 February, 2004 at 5:04PM GMT.

Comment 4

People have found ways to avoid every single advert. What makes them think there won't be "Unicast" blocking six months down the road?

The trouble is that static versions of these kinds of adverts have been used already, but I've noticed that they only tend to appear in more "task" based situations - say using Yahoo Groups. You're an admin, you need to do adminny things, you can't go elsewhere.

But in a news site (The Guardian tried it) you can go elsewhere and I presume people did as I've not seen one on the Guardian for a long time.

So said Andrew Bowden on Tuesday 3 February, 2004 at 5:19PM GMT.

Comment 5

'The format is based on Microsoft's Windows Media 9 Series and uses Unicast proprietary pre-cached technology.'

Any campaign such as this will fail as long as it is using a proprietary format, and the format for film files is less than standardised (AVI being the only possible exception). Despite Microsoft's wishes, not everyone is using Internet Explorer or Windows. If this goes through, I'm sure there will be a Firebird plugin in no time to auto-skip the ads (or apparantly empty pages supposedly containing ads), anyway.

So said Wereon on Tuesday 3 February, 2004 at 5:22PM GMT.

Comment 6

I don't think the big companies (especially Microsoft) really care about the non-IE users because IE frustratingly dominates.

And I'm afraid I see no way of automatically avoiding this method of advertising - plugin blocking or a skipper plugin. It's not difficult to replace the content of a page (with an advert for example) on the backend. Hell, even I could do it. You just need to tell the server that every now and then (say one in twenty times) to shove a big ugly advert in place of the expected content. You, or any plugin wouldn't know until the page is already downloading.

So said Patrick on Tuesday 3 February, 2004 at 5:33PM GMT.

Comment 7

I'm not going to lose any sleep over this one. Looks like a classic case of somebody getting so excited over the technical possibilities of doing something that they didn't stop to think about whether it makes any sense to do it.

Traditional web advertising is cheap to distribute - a few pics, a bit of text, easy! Sending out 2MB movies is a lot of bandwidth that somebody is going to have to pay for. When you add in the cost of producing these ads and the considerable premium the site-owners are going to charge for such prominent placement that's a lot of outlay by potential advertisers. WIll they get a correspondingly high return on their investment in terms of increased sales? I doubt it. If anything, it'll probably have the opposite effect.

And what of the site owners? Irritate your customers enough and they'll disappear in droves. This, it seems to me, will irritate them a helluva lot.

The only way I can see this even coming close to working is if site-owners adopt a "protection racket" strategy: say to their visitors "pay us x dollars a year to use our site, or we'll bombard you with 2MB ads each time you visit". If the up-front payment was set at the right level it might net them more income than the ads.

So said Chris Hunt on Wednesday 4 February, 2004 at 3:05PM GMT.

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