Thursday, November 06, 2014

Is the web (and its business model) really on the way down, compared to mobile?

While making a morning Starbucks run (after day “on the road”) I noticed a catchy front page story by Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times, “Fall of the Banner Ad: The Monster that Swallowed the Web”, link here. And the NYT today had two smaller banner ads, for the movies “Birdman” (or "Chickenman", which I had just reviewed yesterday – I think the tracking explains why I got the ad – but why send me an ad for a movie you could figure out I have already seen?) and “Interstellar”’ and, yes, I’m looking into the best place to see the Imax 70 MM print. 
Manjoo sees the banner ad as a “destructive technology” now in decline, because “the web is in decline”.  I would disagree with that second statement.  I know you can get mobile content from site-specific apps (like for weather) but it is the same content.  In fact, in many cases, the mobile versions don’t have the detail (like for weather) that I would like to see.  On the other hand, sometimes mobile apps (like clickable maps showing the intensity of storms, with easy geographic navigation) are actually superior.  For my blogs, mobile versions don’t offer all the labels and date-based navigation that I use at a PC.  But they do have the same family of ads.

Manjoo traces how banner advertising dominated the web in the early days, and became something everybody had to emulate.  Once people no longer were as interested in buying pets online as the dot-com boom had assumed (really, a dog or cat needs to be feely-touchy, doesn’t he?), they became a problem.   Some of them are annoying, and hinder bringing up the news story you want to read.  Manjoo also talks about “native ads” which are “sponsored news stories”.  I get annoyed at these “come-ons”.  And I get annoyed at stories that force you to navigate to many successive pages to see one item at a time (like “the world’s 20 most dangerous cities”).  And I get particularly annoyed with manipulative videos (or “slide shows”) that force you to keep watching to find out the “spoiler” or the payoff.  If the point of your story is that “the dollar will soon no longer be the reserve currency and the economy will collapse”, then tell me in the first minute of your video and then build your argument, like we had to do for college English themes.  I’m also annoyed when important stories are video-only.  If something is important, and I’m looking at my cell phone on the DC Metro (which has better service than the NYC subway), I don’t have time to watch a video (hard to hear in a public place, and using bandwidth) to get the information.  Tell the story in print.  And, oh yes, people watch videos on Amtrak.  Like a couple weekends ago when an attractive college-age male a seat ahead was watching a YouTube replay of Will and Sonny from “Days of our Lives” – but on a really big laptop, even in Windows 8. 

And never forget this:  when you want "free content" from anything (broadcast TV, the Web, social media, or mobile apps, or your car FM radio) you'll encounter marketing, advertising and sponsors.  People have to making a living, and actually (in most cases) raise families.  Remember that the next time you don't answer a robocall. 

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