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(hiker in forest discovers Promoted tag, and thinks...) Well, shit.

Wait – why don’t we have DEmoted tweets?

Wait – why don’t we have DEmoted tweets? published on No Comments on Wait – why don’t we have DEmoted tweets?

We’re really working hard to avoid saying the word “ad,” aren’t we? Promoted posts, tweets, accounts and hashtags; sponsored content; “Suggested for you” links…

And we aren’t just looking for euphemisms — we’re camouflaging ads as “native content,” with tiny little disclaimers engineered to be as easy as possible to miss while still providing plausible deniability to platforms and publishers.

The goal is to make advertising look as much as possible like authentic conversation. And when we get taken in — when we think we’re having a genuine conversation with someone, only to discover we’re being led down a sales funnel — then it diminishes our trust in conversation across the board.

That’s happened to me even in the BSM* Era.

My girlfriend (this was also the BWGM** Era) and I struck up a conversation with another couple in a bookstore, seemed to hit it off, and made a dinner date.

A few nights later, we arrived at the restaurant (Vij’s, by the way — if you’re ever in Vancouver, you have to go). First sign something was up: only the guy showed up.

Second sign: he brought out logotized binders with dividers five minutes into the conversation.

Here’s a pro tip about logos, binders and dividers: not one of them augurs well for a nascent friendship. Together, they sound alarm claxons.

Sure enough, out came the pitch for his multi-level marketing company. I don’t think he’d quite reached the part about downstream revenue before we’d knocked back our fizzy lemon drinks (be sure to order them, they’re transcendent) and headed for the door.

When the subject of sponsored content comes up, I often think of our dinner companion and the bereft expression on his face as we explained why we were leaving. I think he was genuinely hurt.

But so were we. If we’d known from the start what kind of conversation he wanted to have, that would have been one thing. But we’d been deceived, and no amount of rationalization (the tiny “Sponsored link” text is the 2015 version of “I just wanted to share this marvellous opportunity with you lovely people!”) can convince us otherwise.

Rescuing authenticity from the clutches of commercial exploitation is a big task… but maybe as a tiny first step, advertisers and publishers could bump the disclaimer text up a little. Increase the contrast. And make sure their audience knows just what garden path they’re about to stroll down.

Who knows? They might even go willingly, if it’s worth the walk.

Huh! Geekiness aside, I apparently have a Romantic-era sensibility bubbling away in my subconscious. This isn’t the first time I’ve juxtaposed the wonders of nature with the blandishments of civilization, whether it’s with sunsets, hikes or kayaking.

* Before Social Media
** Before We Got Married

Room wanted

Room wanted published on 2 Comments on Room wanted

Know an online publication or news site
where Noise to Signal would fit in perfectly?
Let me know!

Here at Noise to Signal, we’re looking for a home. We’re scouring Craigslist for something like this:

500 x 600 px. Nice up-and-coming neighbourhood. Convenient to web traffic. Bright, open standards.

For several years, Noise to Signal ran weekly at ReadWriteWeb (thanks to Marshall Kirkpatrick‘s kind introduction to Richard MacManus, for which I’ll be forever grateful). It was a terrific experience: I got to reach a wide, diverse audience who shared my interest in the social web, not to mention a great community of fellow contributors.

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to some wonderful projects (Measuring the Networked Nonprofit and Open Community, to name just two). And I’ll keep looking for new collaborations, because damn, they make me happy.

But there’s still something I’ve missed since the RWW days. And that’s the chance to be part of an ongoing project aligned with my belief in the open web.

So I’m looking for a venue for a regular Noise to Signal cartoon. I’ll be knocking on a few doors in the coming weeks, but I’d also love your suggestions.

If you know the perfect socket for this particular chip, please let me know. It could be a tech news site, a web advocacy campaign, or something else entirely. (For example, if The Guardian, O’Reilly Media and the Mozilla Foundation are launching a new online magazine curated by danah boyd, Sir Tim Berners Lee and Baratunde Thurston, I would like very much to know about this.)

Let me know in the comments, tweet me (robcottingham) or drop me a line at Many thanks!

Please, Not Another Banner Year

Please, Not Another Banner Year published on No Comments on Please, Not Another Banner Year

There are times when it seems like the economics of the web seem to boil down to:

  1. Find some white space on your site.
  2. Fill it with an ad.
  3. There is no number three. Check out these great discount air fares!

It starts innocently enough, with a few AdSense text placements. But before you know it, you have one of those Flash-based monstrosities lurking in your sidebar – the kind you don’t dare roll over, because if you do it spawns some demonic window that extends outside the boundaries of your monitor and knocks over furniture in your family room, while playing The Macarena at 130% volume.

It’s kind of nice, then, when a player in the — oh, god, what do we call it nowadays? ah, yes: the content industry — manages to come up with a revenue stream that’s a little more win-win than just hurling ads in readers’ faces. This week I stumbled across The Washington Post’s Master Class series: online courses that put the expertise of Post writers at your disposal.

It launched last month, and the tuition fees aren’t small; they’re along the lines of what you’d pay for a decent continuing ed class at your local college or university. That puts them in a different price bracket from most of the approaches I’ve seen newspapers take to finding a new source of income, like subscriptions or pay-per-article fees.

I wish them luck. Anything to avoid another banner ad.



Madness v. Method

Madness v. Method published on No Comments on Madness v. Method

I don’t fall in love with corporate campaigns very often, let alone draw a tribute cartoon. But this one by Method

Basically, Method’s been using a daisy in conjunction with its sustainable-household-product marketing for years. Along comes Clorox, who starts using a yellow daisy for its line of sustainable household products, and then slaps Method with a cease-and-desist letter.

Method chose Earth Day to respond with this – a site that lets you vote whether you think the daisy should belong to Clorox, Method or the planet – and with this:

Anyway, this cartoon is in honor of not just a brilliant bit of campaigning, but of one corporation taking a stand against intellectual property run amuck. Come on, Clorox – daisies have been around for at least 36 million years. I think the term for that is prior art.