Links should be free- and users are worth more than a few cents each. Why “ad frames” are bad business for news.
My local newspaper, the Bangor Daily News, has made some admirable improvements to its otherwise lackluster website over the past few months. To their credit, they’ve slowly integrated topic and people-based cross-links throughout their site, created “topic-centric” destination sections on health, sports, and politics, and appear to be slowly migrating their site from a vertical platform CMS to the world-class WordPress CMS.
All the goodwill engendered by those steps threatens to be undone with their most unethical and annoying update: A persistent top frame that sticks you with a BDN-hosted ad — even when you’ve clicked off their site to visit other links. (Here’s an example of the “ad frame” in action– what you’d see after clicking a link from the BDN website). Worse, the BDN ad frame give users no way to remove the frame- a feature that even the universally-derided “Diggbar” offered before being shut down due to overwhelming criticism.
This is the kind of selfish, pageview-grabbing trickery that creates mistrust with people who except they are using the open web, diminishes the value of pageviews (and thus revenues) to advertisers and publishers alike, and tricks readers into staying within a site when they think they’re exiting. This behavior is beyond simply annoying- it is unethical because it undermines the single most intrinsic tenet of the web: the concept that websites can and should cross-link to other sites for the purpose of connecting dots- not making an extra few cents.
You might dismiss this complaint as one that doesn’t affect “regular” web users- but I strongly disagree. In fact, I think this type of slight is aimed directly at people who don’t know the technical trickery at work to misdirect them. A pro user might be wise enough to simply edit the BDN’s sloppy URL, but most people are simply- and rightly- interested in surfing the web, and sites who hold that trust have a high standard to treat users’ freedom with respect, and earn their visits by delivering good content- not by holding them hostage with an IFRAME tag.
It’s become tired conventional wisdom that many news organizations are slowly and sometimes clumsily adapting to the changing of their business model in the face of the web, and I’m don’t want to rehash that story here. I’ll only add that if news organizations expect to stem the steady tide of readers away from their pages, they should work hard to find creative ways to bring value to readers, and avoid deceptive methods to peel precious cents away from the declining segment of people who support them.
Addendum: After contacting the BDN to express my dismay at this policy during the previous election season, and asking another newspaper its opinion on the matter (they essentially dismissed my concerns), it’s clear to me that as of now the current BDN leadership has no plans to revise this policy.
In light of that, I wrote up a quick script to disable this “ad frame” on my own browsers. If you’re like me, and you want to continue using the BDN website but don’t want to support this behavior, please contact the BDN to share your opinion.
In the meantime, if you use Firefox or Chrome as your web browser, you can download this free Greasemonkey extension I made called Zap BDN Frames. It simply removes the BDN’s ad frame and takes you directly to the linked site.