Tags: popup | sorry | ethan zuckerman | ads

Popup 'Sorry': Creator of Pesky Internet Ads Apologizes

By    |   Friday, 15 Aug 2014 12:35 PM

Ethan Zuckerman, the man who invented Internet popup ads, said he's sorry this week.

"I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I'm sorry. Our intentions were good," he wrote in an article for The Atlantic.

These days, Zuckerman is the head of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, and his article explained the conditions that existed for the invention of popup ads more than 20 years ago.

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From 1994 to 1999 — the early days of the consumer Internet — Zuckerman was working for Tripod.com, a startup geared toward providing content and services for recent college graduates. The company churned through a number of business plans, until landing on advertising.

"Over the course of five years, we tried dozens of revenue models, printing out shiny new business plans to sell each one," he wrote.

"The model that got us acquired was analyzing users’ personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the popup ad."

Zuckerman explained that popup ads were a hit because early Internet users could easily differentiate them from the native content of the page they were on, which made major advertisers more comfortable.

"It 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," he explained.

"Specifically, we came up with it when a major car company freaked out that they’d bought a banner ad on a page that celebrated anal sex."

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Ethan Zuckerman, the man who invented Internet popup ads, said he's sorry this week.
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