Kick-starting the Web

I’m getting tired of waiting for the Web economy to restart, so I’m going to offer two suggestions to give it a kick in the pants.

One of the many reasons the dot-com bubble burst is that there are so few ways to fund a Web service. You can adopt a subscription model and make users pay to reach the content, but that approach flops more often than not. Or you can make the content free and support the site through advertising, but most vendors have little incentive to advertise on the Web.

Web ads are a disaster because they’re inferior to ads in just about every other medium. Web ads are easy to block, and they’re easy to ignore when you don’t block them. It doesn’t matter where you put them on a Web page, and it matters even less how much colour or animation you put in the ad.

In my experience, the only Internet ads that have ever made a lasting impression were ads that ran throughout an Internet game I played called Acrophobia. I haven’t played for many years, but I remember every ad. The ads ran between sessions of the game. You couldn’t block them. There was no fast-forward button to get past them. The ads typically ran for only a few seconds, so the interruptions in the game were short enough to be tolerable. The multimedia nature of the ads made some of them entertaining, and all of them were hard to forget.

So my first suggestion is to bring this concept to Web browsing. It should be easy. Web sites already split up many articles into multiple pages. When readers click on the Next button, the site could make them sit through a few seconds of advertising before the next page of the article appears. The technical challenges to make this work certainly aren’t insurmountable. To compensate for slow connections, you could stream a multimedia ad to the browser while the user reads a page of the article.

You could also build a delay into serving up a page when someone hits the Next button so that the reader would have to wait a few seconds between pages. This would take away the incentive to block the ads or turn off the multimedia features necessary to view and hear them. If I had no choice but to twiddle my thumbs for six seconds between pages, I’d rather watch an ad while I waited than watch a blank screen.

I’m sure many of you will bristle at the above suggestion, but I believe this is the way to make Web ads not only worth the investment, but also worth more than television advertising, which is becoming easier to avoid all the time. So if you hate this idea, remind yourself that if the Web is where advertising works, then the Web is where the money will go.

My next suggestion may be more difficult to implement from a technological perspective, but it could be a very lucrative approach to collecting marketing data. It would require a bit of legislation in addition to technology, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s easiest to explain this idea through a fictitious example. Imagine that when you put a bag of popcorn into your microwave oven, a chip inside the bag tells the GE oven the brand, flavor and other details about the popcorn. The machine then automatically uses the ideal settings to pop the corn, which benefits the customer. Meanwhile, the oven sends everything it knows about this corn-popping event to a central database repository at GE.

When the packets hit the router, the router checks to see if the microwave oven ID contained in the packet is valid and paid for by GE. If not, the packet is discarded. If so, the router is legally required to strip the packet of any information that could be used to identify the customer, after which it passes the information to the GE database. GE can then sell its demographic information to others.

The bottom line is that companies pay to collect information about what customers do, the privacy of the customers is protected by technology and by law, and the information collected is still valuable enough to sell.

Petreley is a computer consultant and author in Hayward, Calif. He can be reached at [email protected].

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