Ads online – you have a choice

The internet is full of ads. There is no escaping that fact that despite it being a free web, the word ‘free’ probably means you will have to put up with an awful lot of adverts. People who work online have to make a living, and ads is one of the most popular ways to do so – fair enough.

Sometimes you have to accept that we need ads to help keep so many free services on the internet running; information on blogs, free emails, forums and search engines just to name a few.

Many people believe that the ads are there, and that is the way it is going to stay. Useless information will get in your way when you are looking for useful content, but that is not entirely correct.

Advertisers advertise, ultimately because they want to boost their or their business or organisations income. Advertisements may drive sales, increase donations, raise awareness, promote a brand, offer freebies, or do a whole number of other things.

Most consumers (that’s people like you and me) think that adverts are an inconvenience, but need they be?

Advertisers are now getting clever, cookies are being used to track what you look at online, and are then used to present you with ads that are relevant to you, which you might actually find interesting.

Many people may find that a daunting prospect. Advertisers are collecting information about me in order to try to ‘improve my ad experience’ and at the end of the day get me to spend more money. Is that right?

Enter AdChoices.

The AdChoices IconThe Digital Advertising Alliance have founded a site called Your AdChoices, which gives you information about the choices you have about the adverts that you see whilst browsing the internet.

Would you rather the ads that you see online were relevant to you, or random? Now, for the first time, you have the ability to choose.

Hundreds of advertising hosts now use AdChoices, to let you personalise the way you view the web. Google, AOL, Adobe, Disney, Kraft, Microsoft, News Corp and Yahoo are just some of the big names that participate in the AdChoices scheme.

Here is an extract from the AdChoices website:

“The Advertising Option Icon gives you transparency and control for
interest-based ads:

  • Find out when information about your online interests is being gathered or used to customize the Web ads you see.
  • Choose whether to continue to allow this type of advertising.”

Still not understanding the concept? See if watching this video helps.

So you have a choice. You can choose to receive personalised ads, which could potentially improve your browsing experience, or you could choose to opt out. Your choice.

For more information, or to opt out, head over to YourAdChoices.com.

Sometimes, Technology Bloggers writers will choose to display an AdSense Ad in there articles. These all have the AdChoices button on them. I rarely add one, but for your interest, look below. Can you see the ‘i’?


What will you do, opt out or stay in? Do you think it is good that we are now offered personalised ads, or is it an invasion of privacy?

With regard to personalised ads I am undecided, but am slowly warming to the idea.

High Technology Sign Language Gloves

The winners have just been announced of the Microsoft Imagine Cup and they have created a very interesting product, worthy of a look I feel and also of the $25000 prize money. The Quad Squad team is a group of students based in Ukraine, and they have designed a pair of gloves that are able to convert sign language into sounded speech.

The gloves are fitted with sensors that can read letters as displayed in sign language. Software then interprets the signs and produces the spoken sound through mobile phone technology.

A pair of sign language conversion gloves.

The designers hope that their product will enable communication between someone speaking using sign language and someone who cannot read sign. Incidentally they have small solar panels fitted so they can recharge themselves while in use.

Comments on the Gizmag blog point to limitations, the gloves can only presently recognize letters and not symbols for words, but all agree that the product is definitely a step in the right direction.

If your sign language is not up to scratch you might like to try a pair of Accelagloves. These gloves use a mixture of sensors, software and a video camera attached to your computer to teach the signing of letters. They cost $300 (including software) and are already available from the Institute for Disabilities Research and Training who worked on their development. The Endgadget website offers a demonstration and the author’s verdict on their efficiency in video format.

The gloves are not only designed as a learning tool however, but also as an input for your computer as communication between gloves and computer is two way. Not only do they teach the symbols but they allow the user to input data through sign language, another important use in cases where visual or audio contact is not possible or the input device cannot be easily held (in emergency situations for example).

If your signing is already good you might like to try a pair of Glow Gloves. A simple idea that enables sign language in the dark, they do exactly what it says on the box.

I worked in a school in Italy where sign was taught as a curriculum subject, and now my youngest son is learning it at pre-school, but from my own point of view it remains an underused resource. Maybe this technology could help to spread its use to a larger group of people.

Is there really that much diversity on the internet?

The internet is big right? Okay it is massive. With that massiveness one naturally associates extreme diversity. Don’t get me wrong, across the entire internet, there is amazing variation, with billions of people adding their spin to the net.

What I am going to investigate in this post though is how diverse the ‘main’ internet is. What I mean by that is the internet that we use every day. How diverse is the most regularly used/visited content? Is there really as much choice as we think, or is the majority of the internet dominated by a few firms?


In order to go about this research I am going to use Alexa, who gather statistics on websites traffic. For most sites, the data isn’t that accurate, however for really busy sites, the numbers are so great, the reliability of the data is much higher, hence why I can use it.

Alexa's Logo

Google

According to Alexa, Google.com is the most visited site on the web. How could it not be? Alexa estimates that 50% of all internet users visited Google.com in the last three months. Second on the list for most visited sites is Facebook, which is trailing with just 45% of internet users visiting the site.

Remember however that is just Google.com, Google has a massive monopoly over the internet. In the 100 most visited sites on the web, 18 of the sites are owned by Google – 16 localised sites, Google.com and GoogleUserContent.com (the site you see when there is an error finding/displaying a page).

Google undoubtedly has reduced diversity on the internet, having such a monopoly on the sites we all visit. The thing is, it isn’t just 18 sites. Google also owns YouTube and (the third most visited site on the net) Blogspot which is ranked 10th, Blogger at 47 (Blogger and Blogspot are now one) and Blogspot.in (India) ranked 73. That means 21 of the most visited sites on the net belong to Google, meaning it owns more than one fifth of the ‘main’ internet.

Googlite Logo

Google’s dominance on the web suggests that a lot of us are Googlites!

Can you call the internet diverse, when in the top one hundred sites, one firm owns more than a fifth of all sites? Maybe, what does the rest of the field look like?

Microsoft

Unsurprisingly, the company that is arguable Google’s main rival is in second place. Yahoo and Microsoft are currently in a ‘Search Alliance’ therefore restricting competition, so I am going to count them in the list of sites that Microsoft owns/influences. Here is the list of sites that Microsoft owns/influences which are top 100 websites:

  • Yahoo.com – Ranked 3rd
  • Live.com – Ranked 7th
  • Yahoo.co.jp – Ranked 16th
  • MSN.com – Ranked 17th
  • Bing.com – Ranked 29th
  • Microsoft.com – Ranked 30th – ironic how it is lower many of the other sites it owns!
  • Flickr.com – Ranked 53rd and Yahoo owned

Therefore Microsoft own/influence 7 of the top 100 sites. Add that to Google’s 21, and 28 of the top sites on the net are owned by two firms. More than a quarter.

I am starting to think the ‘main’ internet is not as diverse as one may first assume.

Amazon

Next on the list of internet giants comes Amazon. Amazon.com is ranked 10th, whilst Amazon Germany (Amazon.de) is ranked 91st and Amazon Japan (Amazon.co.jp) is 95th. Amazon also owns the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) which is the 50th most visited site. Amazon owns 4 of the top 100 sites.

Amazon's Logo32 sites gone.

Alibaba Group

The Alibaba Group is a privately owned Chinese business, which owns Alibaba.com, Tmall (tmall.com), Taobao (Taobao.com) and Sogou.com. The group therefore account for four of the sites that make up what I am calling the ‘main internet’.

36 sites taken by just 4 companies. How diverse is our internet?

eBay

Next we come to eBay.com which sits 23rd on the list of top 100 sites. eBay International AG (ebay.de) is in 80th place, followed by eBay UK (ebay.co.uk) in 86th. eBay also owns PayPal (paypal.com) which is ranked 46th.

eBay steals another 4 sites, leaving just 60 of our hundred left, and so far only 5 firms are involved.

Time Warner

CNN (cnn.com) AOL (aol.co.uk) and The Huffington Post (huffingtonpost.com) are all sites owned by Time Warner. Time Warner is the sixth business involved now, leaving just 57 sites.

WordPress

The blogging platform WordPress (wordpress.com) is ranked 19th, and its brother, which allows users to host the content management system on their own site (wordpress.org) is ranked 83rd.

The Official WordPress LogoThere goes another two sites, meaning just 55 left, and only seven players so far.

Twitter

Ranked number 8 on the list is Twitter, however its URL shortener (t.co) is ranked 31st, meaning Twitter is also one of the big players in the top 100 sites, arguably with some form of domination over the internet.

Twitter's Logo47 sites of the top 100 accounted for and a mere eight organisations involved.

The Rest

Of the final 53 sites, 5 are adult only sites leaving 48 sites – although many of these either are a part of, or are a much bigger group.

Some familiar faces appear in the other 48 sites, Facebook (2nd), Wikipedia (6th), LinkedIn (11th), Apple (34th), Tumblr (37th),  Pinterest (47th), BBC Online (48th), Ask (54th), AVG (62nd),  Adobe Systems Incorporated (67th), About.com (81st), ESPN (82nd),  Go Daddy (85th), Netflix (89th),  The Pirate Bay (92nd) and CNET (97th).

Remove these very well known, well established, and massive brands, and we are left with 32 sites – less than a third. Of the remaining sites, around half are Chinese, showing the growing influence and usage of the internet in China.

My Verdict

In this post I have established that of the sites we visit most regularly, 47 are owned by just eight organisations. Does that really represent the freedom that we all believe the internet offers?

I was surprised by the type of content, and the limited number of different sites that there are in the global top 100. It would seem that the most visited sites consist of search engines, social media sites and news websites. Interesting statistics.

So, what is your verdict on how diverse the internet we use everyday is? I personally am not quite as convinced as I was before writing this article that the internet is quite as free and diverse as we all believe.

Please note these rankings are changing all the time, and all content was correct according to Alexa.com at the time of writing – the 6th of July 2012.