Ethan Zuckerman is the man who invented pop-up ads. And he’s very sorry he did.
Pop-ups pay the bills
Zuckerman wrote a long apology to the world in The Atlantic in 2014 (cited below). In it, he explained that from 1994-7 he worked for a website that needed a creative new revenue stream:
“At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising. The model that got us acquired was analyzing users’ personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad. It was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page’s content.”
Of pop-up ads, Zuckerman admits “I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good.”
The best intentions of the man who invented pop-up ads
Creating better, more targeted ads required better surveillance of web users’ behaviors. Specifically, “tracking users’ mobile devices as they move through the physical world, assembling more complex user profiles by trading information between data brokers.”
The more a business relies on ads for income, the more they need people to see those ads. The ads become more invasive as a result. Enter pop-ups.
While the man who invented pop-up ads regrets his creation, he also notes that there’s no other way to offer the free services of the Internet without some sort of advertising.
People aren’t willing to pay for services like social media, for example. As a result, the ads we see have to be visible and valuable – and that means targeting us with things the algorithm knows we’re interested in and making sure we see the ads by forcing us to click through them in order to get to the content we want to see at the moment. — WTF fun facts