Monday, February 13, 2006

Intelliigently Avoiding IntelliTXT: What Price Freedom from Free Ads? 

You may have noticed that some of your favourite Web sites, large and small, have been sprouting words and phrases in double underlines lately. Mousing over these keywords displays a pop-up window heraldikng the latest intrusion of drive-by advertising on the Web: Vibrant Media's "IntelliTXT".

This self-inflicted (by the site managers) graffiti is visually distracting, annoying to a number of people, and worst, as has been pointed out by several others, it alters content in ways which may violate the original author's rights (for example, material quoted under a Creative Commons license prohibiting modification).

But virtually any problem that technology enables, other technology can mitigate. A quick Google search led to Shell Extension City's search page, from whence is linked The Grey Area's discussion on how to disable IntelliTXT. The discussion explains how to disable the ad glop on an individual system (through editing your /etc/hosts file (for Linux/BSD/Mac OS X) or %SystemRoot%\system32\drivers\etc\hosts for Microsoft Windows.

A better way, in my view, is to handle this from the firewall - either the software firewall (ipchains, DansGuardian, ZoneAlarm or whatever you're using - you are using one, aren't you?) for a single system or the hardware firewall if you have a network (or a broadband connection). Block the domains intellitxt.com and vibrantmedia.com and you should never again get a double-underlined ad again.

This gets rid of the ads, but it doesn't solve a very real problem. Most of the IntelliTXT ads I've seen are on sites run by relatively small organisations, not Fortune 10 companies. These sites use IntelliTXT because it's often effective at getting click-through while being both less intrusive and less obviously blockable than traditional banner advertising. Disable IntelliTXT, and you won't ever click through an ad. If enough viewers of a particular site disable the ad system, then the website provider is either going to have to close the site down or find new ways to pay the expenses of running it. No Web site is completely free; "free" providers like Yahoo/Geocities, myspace and so on wrap your "free" content in their own advertising banners, "Advertising by Goooooogle" links, and so on.

Freedom is never free, or, to put it another way, liberty is never without cost. Lowering the price that a recipient of your views or information needs to pay does not in any way reduce your costs in providing that information - whether on the Web, by printing press, or hiring salespeople to go knocking on doors. One of the issues apparently decided by 20th-century history was that efficient, growing economies with rising standards of living depend on some form of the profit incentive, either financial gain or emotional/spiritual satisfaction. People who aren't being rewarded for their efforts rarely sustain intense, creative efforts without reward. How that reward gets distributed - and collected - with respect to Web advertising, is still a very open question.

Your comments, as always, are greatly appreciated.

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