"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Presidential Opinion Poll - Unfortunate Problem (POP-UP!)

Since some of us are thinking a bit more about elections and the political process this month, it seemed like a good time for me to conduct a little online research. Hence, the "2008 Candidate Survey" over there to your right in my sidebar, where I invite you to register your favorite contender(s) for president in two years. It's received a decent response, with 33 votes so far. However, one unintended consequence is that it also seems to be serving pop-up and pop-under advertising to my blog readers; I personally hate pop-ups, so I want to apologize to anyone who is getting them.

On the Internet (like everywhere else), there is no such thing as a free lunch; many services will claim to offer "free" this or that, whether it's web hosting, music downloads, e-mail, photo albums, or a variety of other things, but nearly all of these contain some sort of advertising in exchange. Marketing professionals realize the opportunity to capitalize on the millions of people who have their own blogs and personal web pages on social networking sites like MySpace. Many of these folks are attracted to tools and widgets that can enhance their pages; in addition to interactive online polls like my presidential survey, one can find hit counters, guestbooks, videos, discussion forums, news tickers, tag boards, maps, calendars, horoscopes, and other doo-dads. The degree to which these services embed advertising into these web tools ranges on a scale from "not at all", through "unobtrusive and tolerable" to "obnoxious", all the way to "virus-laden spam". It's a vast wilderness with new services being added daily, and it can be hard for the average user who just wants to see how many people are viewing their pages to not wind up making their visitors feel like they've been violated.

There are a few well-known and reputable providers who keep advertising to a minimum. The top photo sharing providers, like Photobucket and Flickr, have ads on their sites but don't force them down your throat. Their free services are very useful and functional enough for the average web page; the main focus of their ads is to get you to sign up for their paid services if you require something more robust. Others can be far less ethical. A fellow blogger friend was recently taken in by a UK-based site that offered free web-tracking statistics, even helpfully offering to automatically install the required javascript code into her blog's template. For the next several days visitors to her site were bombarded with the most obnoxious pop-up and pop-under advertising (some of it bordering on pornographic), had their browser home pages hijacked, and suffered other virus-like behavior from the "free" tool. It was not until she was able to track down the changes the site had made to her template and remove them that viewers again felt safe to return to her site.

Bravenet, the site that has supplied my presidential poll, is somewhere in the middle. I chose them at first because they were one of the only ones I could find in the "free web poll" category that allowed multiple answers to a question, as well as offering a high degree of customization to the look and feel of the poll. When I signed up for it, I was under the impression that those who participated in the poll would only see a banner ad displayed on the results page. This seemed fair enough to me, however now that it's been there for a while I've noticed that it also occasionally serves popups when my blog page is loaded. Even though the pop-up blocker feature in the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox will usually stop these, I still don't care much for this behavior and I'll probably take the poll down in the next few days once it appears that everyone who would like to vote has done so. In the meantime, I apologize to anyone who gets an unwanted ad.

All that aside, the poll itself has revealed some interesting results. The two top contenders are Al Gore and Colin Powell, both tied with 30% of the popular vote. John Edwards is third at 21%, and Hillary Clinton (at 6%) is much further behind the rest of the pack than I had expected my readers to put her. The most recent Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, has not received a single vote. Colin Powell's popularity is especially interesting, and I have some analysis of why this is so ... but I'll save that for a future post later in the week. (Gotta keep NaBloPoMo going!) So in the meantime, please vote for your favorite if you haven't done so already. The poll won't be there much longer.

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