Screen shot from the Daily Star showing a hyperlink to a hemorrhoids ad when referring to “piles of rubble.”
For the last couple of years I’ve read Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, which I’ve found to be an excellent source of opinions and editorials on the Middle East. But their recent decision to integrate an advertising revenue generator called ContentLink into their website is beginning to give me pause.
ContentLink is a form of “in-text” advertising. Rather than placing traditional ads adjacent to an online article, it embeds hyperlinks into words found within an article, pointing to an advertiser based on what it believes to be the meaning of that word. For example, if an article contained the sentence “Prosecutors declined to indict San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds this week,” the phrase “San Francisco” would link to a website about San Francisco tourism. Using this system, an online newspaper like the Daily Star would receive income every time a person clicked a link to one of these advertisers.
For starters, I’m not thrilled with the idea, because when I click on a link in a news article or blog entry, I expect it to link to more information about that topic, not to an advertisement. Rather than adding to the value of the content contained in the news source by linking to relevant information, as is the norm with most hyperlinks, in-text advertising devalues it, sending the reader to an unexpected sales pitch. If I were David Ignatius, Rami Khouri or an other regular contributor to the Daily Star, I’d be troubled to see my writings link to these ads, because it gives the appearance of the author’s endorsement, just like a blogger would link to pages he or she wanted readers to visit for one reason or another.
Unfortunately, ever since the conflict with Israel erupted over a week a go, I’ve noticed that many of the in-text ads contained in the Daily Star have often been surprisingly undignified, apparently based on incorrect or inappropriate interpretation of the keywords contained within the articles. Here are some examples of sentences contained within current Daily Star articles and the in-text ad links connected to them:
The logjam may break up quickly or only after several weeks, and it could produce a major setback for Hizbullah or a symbolic victory. (“Break up” links to “Breakup Advice for Moms: Moms, get divorce advice & connect with other moms. Free to join.”)
Much of the country over which Siniora’s government now presides has been reduced to holes in the ground and piles of rubble. (“Piles” links to “Piles or Hemorrhoids: Western and Eastern remedies for this common malady piles or hemorrhoids.”)
At this point, there is little reason to believe that either the mainstream Hamas leadership or the Abbas [government] has any real control over Shalit’s fate. (“Abbas” links to “Free Ringtones – Abba: Get your free Abba ringtones here. Works with all Cingular, and T-Mobile phones. US residents only. Subscription services required.”)
The challenge for the Bush administration as the Lebanon war explodes into its second week is just that – to keep faith with Siniora and his “Cedar Revolution,” even as it stands by its close ally, Israel. (“Bush administration” links to “Bush Administration Shirts and Gear: “W the President” and more – Celebrate Bush and American values with attractive stickers, buttons, T-shirts, mugs, and other gear. Perfect gifts for friends and family.”>)
Wrapped in blankets and plastic bags bound tightly with tape, the bodies were lowered from the truck into simple pine-board coffins doused with a chemical spray to mask – without much success – the cloying odor of death. (“Odor” links to “Reduce Pollutants & Improve Indoor Air Quality! Now you can purify the air you breathe by reducing & improving your indoor air quality with these air purification & ozone generators. Odor & mold removal! Please call for quantity discounts. For healthier breathing order today!”)
There’s no telling where a Daily Star article will link, as ContentLink appears to generate new links each time you reload a page. But each time I check my RSS feeds and see an interesting op-ed or article coming from the newspaper, I cringe at the thought that the ensuing article will link to something wildly inappropriate, particularly in the context of the current violence.
I understand the Daily Star’s need to generate revenue. But I would hope they might reconsider using this advertising service, particularly during this conflict. At minimum, they should at least re-tune it so it doesn’t produce such absurdly embarrassing results. Seeing hyperlinks to hemorrhoids ads when referring to “piles of rubble” – particularly when innocent civilians are lying under those very piles – is an insult to every family suffering on both sides of the border.
I think I’ll just have to stick with reading my friend Mustapha’s blog, Beirut Spring – I sincerely doubt I’ll see him linking to hemorrhoids ads anytime soon. -andy