The Tao of Pop-ups

The difference between me and Jim Meskauskas isn’t so much that he likes pop-ups and I don’t. It’s rather that he’s not quite so hypocritical. While denouncing pop-ups at every opportunity, I do recommend companies buy them when they prove useful. This may appear to be speaking out of two sides of my mouth, but I think this is merely pragmatic.

The pop-up problem can’t be solved by having some people (the “good” people) voluntarily abstain from using pop-ups. You can see where that got us with spam. Instead, we need to have some sort of mechanism to provide some intelligence behind them.

Some companies do this quite nicely. The software-based browser add-ons, while vilified for just about everything under the sun, actually can be good pop-up citizens. Some show messages only of relevant content to targeted lists of viewers. Many advertisers choose to use pop-ups only on sites with obvious relevance to their products.



It’s the mass-market pop-up spawners that get me riled up. They get off the figurative Internet couch and start changing the channel on everyone, right when we’re in the middle of looking at something useful. It makes you want to find out where they live and aim a universal remote at their plasma wide-screens from outside their living room windows. I daydream of pleasant images of someone programming their car radios to spontaneously switch stations on the morning drive (I even bet they’re big Rush fans) to those overly-loud local car dealership ads. It would be a special moment to witness the faces of a broadcast pop-up vendor when he opened up their new issues of Playjerk only to find that the articles (yes, they get it just for the articles) move to different pages at random moments, the former space supplanted by garish and lurid web cams ads.

The browser companies are beginning to wake up to the opportunity here. Netscape now has a pop-up buster (set initially to pop everyone else’s ups but its own, of course). Apple’s new browser, Safari, with about one million users after its first month, has probably the best-executed pop-up buster for those blessed with Macs. These are the types of defenses that users will use and use successfully unless some sort of sanity comes to the pop-up market.

But it won’t. There will always be the bottom feeder pop-up vendor that will spam the masses. Many will arm themselves with buster technology, and those of us who seek to use targeted, “nice” pop-ups will be out of luck, except in those cases where users have explicitly given permission for targeted pop-ups to appear.

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