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banner Monday, 26 November, 2001, 15:05 GMT
Pop go the adverts
Killing off pop-up adverts
You could be clicking the close option a lot more often
When companies start imitating pornographers you know they must be in trouble, writes BBC News Online's technology correspondent Mark Ward.

Anyone who has visited the more salacious corners of the web - about 40% of us if the statistics are to be believed - will know the peril associated with this pursuit.

Annoying adverts
49% of people surveyed by Jupiter Research found online adverts the most irritating commercials
Visiting the wrong page can unleash a blizzard of pop-up adverts and pages that, like the heads of the Lernean hydra of legend, only multiply when you try to kill them off.

Porn sites do this for a simple reason: to make their websites appear more popular than they actually are. Most net firms don't regard the number of pages that each visitor opens or gets sent as a good guide to how popular they are.

Certainly, few legitimate advertisers accept raw figures of "page impressions". Instead, they prefer numbers of unique visitors as well as a host of other measures.

But these flurries of pop-ups help some pornographers establish a pecking order and boost the ad rates they can charge.

Critical mass

Now, many mainstream companies are using the tricks pioneered by pop-up porn to make their adverts stand out. While advertisers love them, consumers find them hugely irritating.

Almost 49% of people surveyed by market analysis firm Jupiter Research found online adverts to be the most irritating of all the commercial come-ons they are subjected to each day.

X10 - a big user of pop-under adverts
Camera maker X10 won publicity with its pop-under adverts
Of all net adverts, pop-ups proved the most apoplexy-inducing according to a whopping 69% of those surveyed. A quarter of people that the survey reached said that pop-ups annoyed them so much that they would avoid sites that used them altogether.

Despite these disquieting findings, net advertisers are constantly improving the ways to put adverts between you and where you want to go on the web.

As well as pop-ups, there are now pop-unders, interstitials and a new emerging breed that uses Macromedia's Flash to do terrible things to your computer screen.

Pop-unders appear behind the window you are looking at so you encounter them when you close that window down.

Wireless web-cam maker X10 WTI won the eternal damnation of many web users for the pop-under campaign that pushed its eponymous camera. The complaints were so strong that X10 was forced to explain its actions on its website.

Betwixt and between

Interstitials are adverts that some websites insert before they serve up the page you actually wanted to see.

The computer code that creates these irritating windows is easy to write and include in a webpage.

The new windows can be triggered by almost any of the common actions that users carry out on a webpage, such as closing the page down or flipping to another open window.

No entry sign
You can deny pop-ups the chance to proliferate
Successive improvements to browsers mean advertisers have more tools than ever at their disposal to improve pop-ups.

Advertisers claim that because pop-ups are harder to ignore than banner adverts that sit and simply wait for your gaze to fall upon them, they are much better at raising the profile of a product or service.

This statement is made despite anecdotal evidence that suggests many people shut down the pop-ups even before they have loaded.

The result of advertisers' admiration for pop-ups is that whenever you go online and click from site to site you pick up a band of nagging followers, windows that you didn't ask to see about products and services you probably don't want.

This shrill shoving of ads in front of consumers is only likely to get worse as the net ad crash continues to bite. Total ad spend fell by almost 8% in the first six months of 2001 according to figures from the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Stopping the popping

So what can luckless consumers do to protect themselves from these interposing irritants? Thankfully, quite a lot.

Many of the sites that give advice about ways to protect your privacy on the web also help manage pop-ups and even banner ads.

Some of these sites manage so-called "proxy" servers that look at the webpages and files being sent to you and removes those that are on its list of banned substances. They typically strip out the ads put together by the large advertising groups such as Doubleclick.

Websites say they are supported by ad revenue, so stopping the ads means the site will suffer in the long run

But configuring your browser to use a "proxy" can be tricky and isn't for everyone.

Also available are add-ons for your browser or stand-alone programs that stop the pop-ups before they are kicked off. Products like Pop-Up Stopper, Guidescope and many others take this route to eliminating the irritating ads. Many strip out banner adverts too.

Of course, this being the internet, this is not the end of the story. Many websites now detect the presence of the ad blockers and refuse entry to those who are using them.

They claim that they are supported by the revenue adverts bring in, so stopping the ads means the site will suffer in the long run.

Do pop-ups and pop-unders infuriate you? Are they worth it if they mean users can continue to have free access to websites? Add your opinion by using the form below.

Your comments:

If websites have to advertise in order to keep running, they'd best find a way to do it without annoying their users. That's just a simple fact. I assume that any site that launches advert windows automatically simply isn't savvy enough to have trustworthy information anyway.
Carl, UK

Popping up ad-windows without asking is the digital equivalent of having a salesman call without warning; it's a brash infringement on your time. The only difference is that you can dismiss pop-ups within two seconds.
Lon Barfield, UK

As a pornographer myself, pop-up adverts are an absolute nightmare and do nothing more than drive visitors away from websites. We operate several adult websites which receive traffic at the levels of around 40 million hits per month - not one of our websites has a popup windows.
Kevin, UK

Despite even the revered Nielsen pontificating on this subject, still seemingly professional and respected companies persist with this brand of advertising evil.
Paul Madley, UK

"He who would dance must pay the piper". If you want to "dance" ie surf the web, you have to pay the costs either by enduring advertisements or paying out of your wallet. And you don't have to actually READ the ads!!
Mary MacLeod, England

I think the least intrusive and most practical type of web advert is the interstitial, since it has most in common with an ad break on TV or turning past a full page advert in a magazine. Sites can then offer the user free access to the site with interstitials between pages say 20-30% of the time or the chance to pay a nominal fee for interstitial free access.
Alan L, UK

The best way I've found to avoid pop-ups entirely is to use the Opera browser. Version 6 includes a "Refuse Pop-up Windows" option. No need to install special non-pop-up software. Plus, I've found Opera faster than IE and Netscape.
R. Shannon, UK

I run the Oakengates Town Website,, as an exercise in regeneration, and have just purchased 10,000 pop-under adverts on a London based site. I can only apologise in advance if we irritate anyone, but it is all in a good cause.
Dr Tim Hughes, UK

I find pop-up windows the most irritating part of the web. I don't wait for pop-up windows to load up anymore, I just shut them down as soon as they open. I don't understand why advertisers think they work? Have they actually tried surfing the web at all?
Sian Jones, UK

It's a new sport: closing the pop-up windows before they've had a chance to finish loading - the faster your connection, the quicker you have to be. If you win, you get to see the page you wanted. Lose - you have to read the rubbish!
Mike Allmey, UK

Pop-up windows are a good way of advertising, but only if they are tightly regulated. I got into a lot of trouble at work when I visited a website to download a patch for a file, and got hundreds of these pop-ups. I was accused of excessive Internet usage. Only when I proved that I couldn't access over 100 pages in 30 seconds did they believe me.
Ian Westwood, United Kingdom

When your internet activity is being logged, is it your fault if a porn site is launched in a new window, as a result of your activity on a "safe" site?
Andy Fox, UK

As a web developer I'm sometimes asked to write in facilities for pop-up windows, I refuse point blank though, and justify to the customer that having their company and product hated by the web community is a bad idea. Usually they take this on board and accept. Personally, if I come across a site with pop-ups then I never go back.
Wakefield Turner, UK

Perhaps it's time that the web grew up - despite the internet being based on the principles of free information of all, the reality is that people will either have to start paying for content or put up with advertising. It costs a lot of money to host a popular website. Perhaps voluntary donations are the way to go.
Matt, England

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