I’ve been an avid reader and fan of Blue’s News for many years (more years than the site claims to have been in existence, so someone’s lying). Blue’s is a site whose initial focus was the game Quake (the original name was Blue’s Quake Rag), but has since branched out over the years to be a general gaming site, but still mostly focusing on 3D FPS games, and the offerings of id Software in particular.
Blue’s News curator, Blue, is one Stephen Heaslip of the NYC area. Once a full-time worker, he was able to quit his job in the dot-com era (I don’t recall, but I think he worked at Compaq) and was able to work on Blue’s News full-time. At some point a year or two ago, he even had two employees – Jason “loonyboi” Bergman and Frans (whose last name eludes me), who also created the database-driven system the site and comment system relies upon.
However, at some point Bergman left the site. It was vaguely reported to be related to the cost of keeping him around, and he’s since taken up residence at Shacknews, another gaming news site that’s strangely popular and profitable. Frans has since left as well, thought it seems his reasoning was more along the lines of wanting to do different things (he’s since become the administrator of 3D Files.
Blue’s main sponsor is an ad network named UGO (UnderGround Online), but when the Internet advertising bubble popped, UGO started paying sites less and less, and the future of Blue’s was in doubt. He even posted to that effect at one point.
For a long time nothing happened. Blue would even remove ads from his page that caused pop-up ads to occur. Blue was adamant that there would never be poups or other forms of annoying interruption based advertisements. However, when a Flash based advertisment that took up a good portion of the screen appeared, he asked that readers be tolerant of it, and understand the predicament he was in.
Then, about two months ago, the other shoe dropped. Besides having to employ pop-up ads, Blue’s also featured a “takeover ad” – once every 24 hours (cookie tracked) the main page redirects to an advertisement before the main page. These were in addition to the Flash ads. And a recent redesign of the front page now places a large, embedded frame in the page between days of news with a web page in it.
Now, I’m not here lambasting Blue’s. Like I said, I really like the site. I’ll tolerate the Flash ads (most have a “close” button now). I’ll tolerate the takeover ads. I tolerate commercials for TV shows I like, this is no different. But I draw the line at popups. They never get past the popup blocker in the Google Toolbar. If a site shuts down because I won’t let them do a popup ad then I’m sorry, but that’s the way it’s got to be.
My concern is this – as time has worn on I’ve seen more and more ads on Blue’s. More and more of the screen real estate is taken up, more and more annoyances are in place. What I wonder is when will it be enough. Or if it will ever be enough. If these ads don’t cover Blue’s costs, or if UGO forces more on him (I don’t know who’s more in charge there), what more can they do? And when they can’t come up with new advertisement methods, what then?
I’m not a prude when it comes to advertising. Some people rant and rave about the commercialization of this and that. Whatever. I live in a city where many days I go to my door to see advertisements rubber-banded to the door. That’s fine – people have to make a living some how. My mailbox is filled with spam. Into the trash it goes. Occasionally it’s useful, so whatever.
There’s people who encourage you to take those little ads that come with your credit card bills and mail them right back to the company, “to show them what you think”. Of course this is misplaced anger – the person who opens your bill (if it is a person) is some minimum wage drone who tosses your protest and doesn’t even bat an eye. People who wrote hate mail to Dell for advertising in PC Accellerator got that magazine cancelled. Good job. And those people who want to drive a million AOL discs back to AOL? What a great way to mask unemployment. And at this rate it’ll be twenty years before they get that million dics. Lord only knows what we’ll be storing AOL software on by then. Guess they didn’t do the math.
The thing is – I’m not your average Internet user. I’ve been web browsing since there was a web. And I can count on my left hand the number of times I’ve clicked on an ad online. Well, maybe on my two hands. And I’ve never bought something from an ad I clicked on.
And yet, I see television ads all the time for things I want to buy. I’ve bought things that I learn about through TV. I don’t complain when they interrupt my shows with commercials.
Is it that I’m used to seeing TV with ads? I mean, it’s not like five years ago there were no ads on TV and now they’re all over the place. Does acceptance just come with time?
The ad campaign on TV for McDonald’s is the “I’m Lovin’ It”. McDonald’s, for whatever reason, never keeps a slogan for long. I can’t wait for this one to go away – it’s annoying. Granted, my going to McDonald’s has nothing to do with their ads and everything to do with 26 years of comfort and whether or not they’re running a Monopoly tie-in. But Jack In The Box ads? I love those things. Everyone does. They’re funny, they’re not obtuse about their point, we actually look forward to those ads. That little stunt with the Jack Balls on antennas is a stroke of brilliance – we pay to get one so we can advertise them for them around town. And I even got one of the ones with the Dallas Cowboys helmet – and I’m not even a football fan.
I do take issue with a recent Dr. Pepper ad with L.L. Cool J and Run DMC. Besides being annoying, it just doesn’t seem right for Run DMC to be pitching soft drinks shortly after breaking up due to the murder of their DJ, Jam Master Jay. Originally, the ad featured an “in memory of…” bit at the end, but now it’s gone. Now, when I see Britney Spears shaking her nonnies with a Pepsi can in hand, it doesn’t bother me – I pretty much expect it, what with her being a young flash-in-the-pan and all (and now that I’ve said that, we’ll be following her past forty like we do Madonna), but companies should at least respect the dead.
But back to Internet Advertising. The problem really is that it just doesn’t work. We don’t click on popup ads. We don’t click on banners. If you buy something from Amazon and someone gets a comission, it’s probably because you went out of your way to refer off of a site. It’s not because you were too stupid to go to Amazon and look it up yourself. The only form of Internet Advertising that does work is spam. And spam only works because it uses ancient standards to scale incredibly well. Sending out millions doesn’t cost much more than sending out thousands. And pretty much any sales you get at all are pure profit. Of course, this too is doomed to ultimate failure. As more and more of the potential “penis enlargement” market becomes hip to the fact that these pills cannot work (nothing short of surgery will), their market will dry up. As spam software becomes better, less and less of these ads will even be seen. And the #1 thing spammers make money off of – lists of valid email addresses to each other – is bound to run out at some point as these lists become more useless.
The main difference between a television show with advertisements and a website with advertisements is that there’s a finite number of television shows on a finite number of television networks, and there’s an infinite number of people trying to run a website for profit. This is the other reason the bubble for Internet Advertising dried up – too many of them. Perhaps at some point only a few web sites will survive. In the FPS/Quake category alone we’ve seen the demise of a number of sites, like Stomped (which lives on as the frontpiece for a gaming place) and Aftershock. Places like PlanetQuake mostly survived due to the strongarm commercial tactics of the GameSpy network.
Of course I don’t want to see any popular site go away. I’m pretty sure sites like Blue’s News will survive, as they’re popular enough to have anough fans interested in keeping it going. Plus we need sites like that, ultimately. This site is run entirely out of pocket (though the hosting fees are nil), and I of course make no money off of it. But while you get what I hope is insigtful commentary, you’re not really informed of all that much.
But I wonder – when/if the Internet Advertising bubble completely dries up, what’s going to happen?