Perils of context-based advertising

I’ll never forget the day several years ago when Google AdSense first appeared on nzherald.co.nz.

One of our news stories that day was about a near-fatal shark attack in Australia. As soon as we switched on AdSense, pages carrying the shark attack story sprouted ads for cage-diving operators offering “swim with the sharks” experiences. If memory serves, we asked Google to bar those ads for a few days, and hoped we hadn’t offended too many readers.

You’ve probably seen or heard about other examples of bizarre and inappropriate context-based advertising.

One recent case involves the British website GoneTooSoon.co.uk, where people post condolence messages. Everything was going fine, until the webmaster decided he needed to earn some money and installed AdSense.

The tribute page for someone killed in a motorcycle accident began carrying ads for motorcycles. Even more offensive was an ad spotted by a user of the site, who wrote:

“Can you really trust a site which posts an advert of [the murderer] Ian Huntley’s biography – not only on my beautiful friend Ian’s site, but on a website that also has a memorial for [Huntley’s victims] Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman?”

Outraged, visitors to the site began removing their tributes and vowing never to return.

Following the uproar, the ads were removed. The site is soliciting donations to keep it free to access.

Team New Zealand victorious

We interrupt this media and marketing blog for important news from the world of yachting:

Team New Zealand has won the Louis Vuitton Cup, and the right to challenge the Swiss for yachting’s ultimate honour, the America’s Cup.

Reminiscent of Team New Zealand performances in 1995 and 2000, they beat Italy’s Luna Rossa 5-0 in the Louis Vuitton final. Congratulations to skipper Dean Barker and the crew!

New Zealand will be one big grin today.

Comparing top sites: US and NZ

Hitwise top 15 sites - US and NZ - April 2007

It’s always fun (well, I think so, at least) to compare web traffic stats. Today I was having a look at the top sites identified by Hitwise for the United States and New Zealand. (Unfortunately Hitwise doesn’t report Canadian data.)

First off, it’s important to note that the data refer to market share (expressed as a percentage) of all visits to sites by users based in the specified country. That’s not the way most websites report their rankings, which are more often based on page impressions or unique (unrepeated) visitors during a period. Moreover, the Hitwise data are extrapolations based on samples obtained from co-operating ISPs in the specific countries, not actual counts.

OK, now to the comparison. A few things I found noteworthy:

  • No news website appears in the US top 15. But two (nzherald and stuff) appear on the NZ list. Yes, Kiwis are always on the lookout for news (especially if it’s about rugby). 😉
  • Auction site eBay is number 8 on the US list. But home-grown auction site Trade Me is number 3 in NZ. In fact, more than a quarter of all New Zealanders are registered members of Trade Me, which was sold last year to publishing group Fairfax for NZ$700 million. Now that’s a success story. I find it much nicer to use than eBay and just wish they’d expand out of the Antipodes.
  • In the US, the social networking action is on MySpace and, increasingly, Facebook. In NZ, British-based Bebo dominates. A Silicon Valley rumour has Yahoo looking at buying Bebo for around US$1 billion.
  • YouTube and Wikipedia are popular in both countries. (At least the kids are doing their homework while they watch videos?)
  • In both countries, web traffic is dominated by search and email.

New Zealand’s best journalism honoured

Results have been announced in the 2007 Qantas Media Awards for New Zealand’s best journalism.

Congratulations to my former colleagues at nzherald.co.nz, which was named best news website.

The best sport site of the year was stuff.co.nz which also won for best news story.

Other online winners include spareroom.co.nz hosts Ana Samways and Steven Shaw, winning for best columnist-style site and also for best alternative/light entertainment site.

The best blog was Russell Brown’s Hard News, a highlight of his must-read Public Address network.

In the offline world, the Christchurch Press was named newspaper of the year and one of its staff, Peter Meecham, won the top photography award.

David Fisher of the Herald on Sunday was reporter of the year and named Qantas Fellow to Wolfson College, Cambridge.

>> Full list of winners

>> Herald journalists use awards platform to protest editorial outsourcing

New Zealand’s top news sites

Chart courtesy Nielsen NetRatings NZ

The latest chart from Nielsen NetRatings ranks New Zealand’s top five news sites according to the number of NZ-based visitors last month.

It’s important to note that for nzherald, stuff, and tvnz, the chart shows only the visitors to the sites’ news sections.

Also, the chart shows only NZ-based visitors. For some sites (nzherald, for sure) this may be significantly lower than the total number of visitors.

Outsourcing journalism to cut costs

Outsourcing to reduce labour costs has caught on in many industries, and it’s happening in journalism too.

The latest example is pasadenanow.com, where editor and publisher James Macpherson is recruiting a journalist based in India to cover local politics in California. The reporter will be expected to watch council meetings online and conduct interviews by phone or email.

Editor & Publisher reports that some people find the idea appalling and ill-advised:

“Nobody in their right mind would trust the reporting of people who not only don’t know the institutions but aren’t even there to witness the events and nuances,” said Bryce Nelson, a University of Southern California journalism professor and Pasadena resident. “This is a truly sad picture of what American journalism could become.”

It is a shaky business proposition as well, said Uday Karmarkar, a UCLA professor of technology and strategy who outsources copy editing and graphics work to Indian businesses. If the goal is sophisticated reporting, he said, Macpherson could end up spending more time editing than the labor savings are worth.

But Macpherson isn’t the only one cutting costs through outsourcing.

The editors who run US news website reuters.com and British site reuters.co.uk sit at desks in Toronto, where Reuters takes advantage of lower pay rates for Canadian journalists.

And New Zealand Herald publisher APN plans to have most of its newspaper pages, for the Herald and smaller papers around the country, edited by another company. Although the work will still be done in New Zealand (and the contracting company will have to set up a new operation to do it), it is expected to cost less than having the work done in-house. About 70 APN staff will lose their jobs.

>> More on outsourcing journalism jobs to India and to China

Blog ranks among top lifestyle sites

Chart courtesy Nielsen NetRatings NZ

Think New Zealand, think great lifestyle. Fittingly, this week’s chart from Nielsen//NetRatings highlights the country’s most popular NZ-based Lifestyle sites according to total unique users during April.

Top of the list is social networking site oldfriends.co.nz, part of the Trade Me group purchased last year by newspaper publisher Fairfax. Most of the others on the list are publishing or e-commerce sites.

But coming in at number 10 is a blog, spareroom.co.nz. Nice to see Ana Samways and Steven Shaw’s professional but quirky creation continuing to grow, and apparently being well-supported by display advertising.

Europe continues to lead broadband access

Broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants. Source: OECD 

More than one in three Danes and Dutch have a broadband account. Five other European countries and Korea are close behind, according to data released yesterday by the OECD.

The number of broadband subscribers in OECD countries increased 26 per cent from 157 million in December 2005 to 197 million in December 2006.

This growth increased broadband penetration rates in the OECD from 13.5 per 100 inhabitants in December 2005 to 16.9 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants one year later.

Topping the list was Denmark with 31.9, closely followed by the Netherlands at 31.8. Canada was in ninth place with a rate of 23.8, up from 21.0 last year. The USA was 15th with a rate of 19.6, up from 16.3. New Zealand was 21st, surging to 14.0 from 8.1.

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