In case you missed it: Woburn-based Ziff Davis publication eWeek has been the subject of some Internet controversy for its use of IntelliTXT contextual ads, which are hotlinked from within the text of editorial content. The IntelliTXT service was developed by the company Vibrant Media.
Rather than repeat what's already been said, I'll direct you to some of what's been written about it:
- "eWeek crosses an ethical line" from Paul Conley's blog
- "eWeek doesn’t want me to visit eweek.com" from Matt McAlister's Inside Online Media blog
One thing I will repeat that's mentioned in Paul Conley's post: ASBPE's ethics guidelines state
The editorial department should control all editorial content on a publication’s digital publication, including Web site, blogs, e-newsletters, digital magazines, and others. Standards such as accuracy, attribution, fairness, and balance applying to a publication’s printed editorial material also apply to a publication’s Internet or digital presence.
Care should be used online, as with printed material, to avoid placement of advertisements in or near editorial content in a way that could compromise editorial integrity or confuse the reader.
And I do have a few comments about this 2004 post from John Battelle's Searchblog, which Matt McAlister's post above also links to: "IntelliTXT: Your Advertising Peanut Butter Is In My Editorial Chocolate..." Although the piece is almost three years old, Battelle makes an interesting devil's-advocate argument that contextual ads within articles might not be so bad after all. Battelle's reasoning, in brief:
... [M]agazines that are essentially catalog magazines ('magalogs'), or most of the Seven Sisters (Glamour, Vogue, etc) ... pretty much exist to move product, and they don't pretend otherwise. A system like this would work quite well for the online kin to these kind of publications. ...
Second, there are an entire classes of content-driven sites which claim absolutely no pretense of editorial objectivity. Whether they are fan sites, directories, blogs, corporate advertorials, for-profit domain-specific portals, you name it, the tradition of sites which carry their biases proudly or are baldly commercial in nature is rich and growing, and IntelliTXT may well give these kind of sites a new monetization model.
Leaving aside whether directories, blogs, and fan sites are, or ought to be, commercial in nature, I'd say that at best the IntelliTXT model is annoying--in the same way that even editorial links can be annoying when the text is vague. In both cases, you aren't really sure what kind of information you'll get if you click.
IntelliTXT links are distinguished from editorial links by a green double-underline format. Vibrant Media CEO Doug Stevenson tells Battelle that the links are a service, and that the reader won't see the ad unless she makes a conscious choice to click an IntelliTXT link. But the format is not enough to distinguish them as ads to the casual user, at least at this point in IntelliTXT's life. And -- in the 2007 iteration, at least--you don't have to click on the link for the ad to appear. Just rolling over it does the trick.It's also interesting that, according to Battelle, Stevenson basically argues that the links don't inherently represent a conflict because the publisher decides what words to link, so that if the links aren't appropriate, it's the publisher's responsibility. Battelle doesn't quote Stevenson's exact words, but if Stevenson did in fact mention only the publisher, I wonder why he doesn't think the editor should be the decision maker when it comes to links.