Vicodin is the new heroin, invasion of privacy is the new blogging, Guy Pearce is the new Russell Crowe, Alex Dimitriades is the new Guy Pearce, and now textads are the new link exchange.

On the surface, this variation on the microcontent theme is so cool it’s kewl: Instead of creepily invasive banner ads (NUblog passim), you get tiny, unobtrusive little rectangles of text. But tiny, unobtrusive shilling is still shilling, and textads don’t work any better than banners.

We suppose Google deserves credit for the idea, but textads have now reached a tipping point:

  1. MetaFilter TextAds (perhaps the originator of the term, already a generic; also at Flazoom and many other sites)
  2. AdFarm
  3. SkipAds
  4. Daypop
  5. BlogSnob
  6. Pyrads (when it bothers to function; we’re just waiting for Pyrads to jump the shark and get their passwords hacked)
  7. ITtoolbox, whatever that is
  8. MLMAds (tackiest presentation yet seen, running counter to the minimalist quasi-Swiss textad graphic-design æsthetic)

Textads uphold the Bohemian ideals of low-bandwidth ASCII communication. But they are not particularly effective as advertising. Google seems to be making a go of it, but then again, Google advertising is tightly linked to search requests and, moreover, the company receives millions of hits per day. With essentially no propagation cost (graphical banner ads cost you money in bandwidth), how could they not work?

But in the bohemian Web demimonde, textads don’t work all that much better than an ordinary link exchange. That is what they amount to; several of the textad systems, like BlogSnob, are built on a philosophy of You Link to My Back and I’ll Link to Yours. But in this case, you have to pay, and there is no resulting payoff, at least for WebWord:

I paid $10 for 5,000 impressions (a real deal). However, even at this low price, and even for the better ad, I paid about $0.05 per clickthrough to WebWord. For some people, that would be great and the payoff would be excellent. But for WebWord, this is probably not something I will do very often. We shall see.

Like multi-megabyte animated screensavers, though at the opposite end of the bloat axis, by being so very discreet and classy textads defeat their own purpose. We have the same attitude to online advertising we have to potato chips: Spare us your twee little efforts to be all classy and discreet. None of these free-range organic olive-oil chips, please. Just hook us up to the trough, and be sure to brush up on your Heimlich manœuvre beforehand. Online, either sell out all the way or don’t bother.

On the other hand, if obnoxious ads don’t work, and discreet, classy ads don’t work either, online advertising is an even greater waste of time than we had ever thought.

Posted on 2002-01-09