Friday, February 25, 2005

Hypertext Link Pollution: My Second Attack Against IntelliTXT

user expectation deviation Posted by Hello

The Many Varieties of
Communication Contamination

It figures. Eventually someone would conceive of a way to muddy yet another positive aspect of the web.

Someone discovered a way to spam our email boxes. Now Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE) or "spam" greatly reduce the overall value and credibility of email. Email is no longer a trusted medium of personal communication.

Of course, junk mail contaminated the postal system, and telemarketing invaded our homes. Now, when the phone rings, we feel annoyed in anticipation. It may well be just "another telemarketer" selling something we don't want.

Comment functions on blogs have reduced some blogs and online discussion forums to garbage dumps.

Loaded with "buy [male you-know-what enhancement product]" or "domain names for sale" or "cheap [you-know-what pharmaceutical pain-relieving products]" comment spam, the blog comment pages are deprived of consistently relevant user-generated content.

Instead of informative comments, we are submitted to long strings of con artist promotions and URLs for sites that may eagerly await your presence, so spyware can be attached to your computer.

Thus, the malicious or dubious sites promoted by comment spam causes the otherwise high quality blog to decrease in overall value.

And now comes the degradation of editorial content and the hypertext links embedded within it.

IntelliTXT from Vibrant Media: bad news for relevant content.

IntelliTXT not only interrupts the flow of information, it also fosters the further blurring of the line between objective reporting and paid advertising. It is the spawn of the "infomercial" or "advertorial" mindset.

In an earlier post, in November of last year, I issued warnings about this content hypertext spam junk:

I have seen IntelliTXT in operation in the most negative manner, which made me decide to never return to the web site that utilized it.

I was profoundly dismayed and angered at my first encounter with this insidious [sly, crafty, more dangerous than is immediately obvious] phenomenon.

What happened was this: I was reading an article, then a certain word was underlined and in blue type, as opposed to the black type of the rest of the editorial text.

Thinking that if I clicked on that highlighted word, I'd link to some support material that would further my understanding of the word and the topic it represents, I clicked on this word.

Then a pop-up box appeared above the word, like a tool-tip, and it was an advertisement with a text link at the bottom, which then took me to a commercial web site, selling me a product that was now totally unrelated to the topic of the article.

The product was only very distantly related to the word in the editorial text. And I had no interest at all in the product or the company being advertised in this sneaky, unexpected manner.

It was quite a jolt to my sensibilities. I have to tell you: I was repulsed and disgusted to have been tricked like this.

So the IntelliTXT removed me from the context of the article, and also put me into an aggressive sales environment I neither anticipated nor enjoyed. I was on an information quest, not a product search. This was a troubling and annoying state of affairs. Against IntelliTXT

Jonathan Dube, over at discusses how conducted a "ridiculous experiment" with IntelliTXT, then decided to abandon it. has finally dropped its ridiculous experiment linking words in news stories to ads.

In August it became the first major new site to incorporate Vibrant Media's IntelliTxt technology, which puts double blue underlines on paid hyperlinks and pops up ad text when users hover over them.

Jim Spanfeller, the president and CEO of, told AP the company stopped using the sponsored links following concerns from his staff, who felt that the links might blur the lines between paid advertisements and staff-written copy.

"There was a lack of comfort," Spanfeller said. "And since we are an editorially-driven company, it wasn't worth having our editors feel uncomfortable, so we decided to step aside."
"Forbes drops in-story ad links"
by Jonathan Dube, Publisher
December 5, 2004

John Battelle sees a possibly constructive usage of IntelliTXT. Although I have to respectfully swerve from the point of view he espouses, he does make a suggestion that would provide a more benign and less dubious role for this advertising practice.

In effect, John recommends divorcing the IntelliTXT from the editorial content.

Here are some of his concluding remarks about this hypertext link deviation :

"...I think both readers and journalists are not ready for the context-jarring concept of ads directly in editorial text. It crosses a line that should be respected.

But what if it were possible to break out keywords for a given article in a separate box, for example, and run that box at the end or to the side of the article? This addresses the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup problem (your advertising peanut butter is in my editorial chocolate....) but retains the power and reader service of the system."

John Battelle's Searchblog
"IntelliTXT: Your Advertising Peanut Butter
is in My Editorial Chocolate..."
April 9, 2004

We already have a lot of problems on the web related to a widespread lack of online information credibility, easy site navigation, reputable site linking, and citing of trustworthy sources.

We also have too much spamming of email inboxes, blog comment pages, RSS feeds, trackback functions, and other interactivity tools.

So this dreadful violation of linking conventions and user expectations must be greeted, in my opinion, with outrage, boycotts, and warnings.

To do any less, to remain silent and compliant, is not an option, at least for this blogger and consumer-advocate.

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