Number Seven

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I'm on vacation, and while I'm gone, with computers and Net connections in short supply, I'm counting down the Ten Greatest Crimes Against Humanity Committed By The Internet. The series begins here.

The number seven is traditionally seen as lucky. Jackpots on slot machines, wonders of the world, deadly sins and virtues, the list goes on. The number seven is so lucky that in some cultures, even having a name like "Slevin" is considered not only lucky, but somewhat profitable at the box office after DVD sales are taken into account.

And while the number seven crime against humanity committed by the Internet isn't lucky per se, I like to think that it's lucky it's not in the top six.

Flash! Aaaah-aaaah! The vector graphics animation format that revolutionized Web content delivery! Shit, that doesn't scan. That's OK. I've not come to bury Flash, nor to praise it. Accusing Flash of committing a crime against humanity is like accusing a hammer of murder. It can be USED for murder, but it's not responsible. It would have been perfectly happy to whack nails all day and leave the nice man's skull intact.

To continue the analogy, there are people out there who use Flash to crush our skulls on a daily basis, and THEY are the ones responsible for the seventh greatest crime against humanity committed by the Internet - the animated overlay ad.

Since its inception, the official Internet Family Crest has borne the motto "Valde, Quemamodum Mercedis", or, roughly, "It's great, but how are we going to pay for it?" This question has basically resolved itself in three ways. Porn supports itself through credit card fraud, creative endeavors support themselves through the sale of nerdy T-Shirts, and everyone else sells advertising.

And for a while, things were OK. There were banner ads and side ads and in-line ads, and we ignored them and scrolled past them and almost never clicked on them by mistake. Unfortunately, if there are three things marketing dudes hate more than anything, it's being ignored, being scrolled past, and not being clicked on. They longed for a new type of ad - an ad that, instead of peacefully coexisting with text, could creep over it, growing stronger by the second as it smothered the content beneath.

Basically, they wanted the marketing equivalent of Venom. And they found it. Now, at any given moment, your web browsing could be interrupted by a growing, semi-transparent, animated ad for a major corporation, possibly including sound and interactive elements, while the shit you actually WANT TO READ lurks below, whimpering.

It's not that I'm even against the idea of advertising. Or advertising on the Web. Or advertising on the web that uses technological advances to be more effective. I just resent the fact that by choosing to ride down the good old Information Superhighway, I am assumed to have volunteered in an elaborate game of "tag" with marketing departments. Make sure you don't roll your mouse over that spot! See if you can find the carefully hidden "close" button before the movie starts playing!

Animated overlay ads turn our monitors into an even worse version of "The Running Man". At least Schwarzenegger only had to run the gauntlet once to win his freedom. We have to keep going back and hope we don't accidentally provoke the guy with the hockey stick.

And on top of it, the fancier the ad is, the more mainstream the product being advertised. Here's a hint, people. I know about Axe body spray. There is nothing you could show me about Axe body spray that would convince me I need to spray horse urine and whiskey, or whatever the fuck is in those black spray bottles, onto my delicate skin. So there's no need for you to interrupt my news story to tell me women will attack me if I do.

So stop it. Keep your ads relegated to the 60% of the screen they take up as it is, and leave the other 40% alone. Explore new, uncharted territory, like throwing bricks wrapped in glossy paper through church windows on Sunday morning.

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