Skip to main content

‘Sorry for the trouble’ says the inventor of the pop-up ad

sorry trouble says inventor pop ad popup
Very few Internet users will have much affection for the classic pop-up browser advert, and now the man who coded the very first one has apologized for his creation. In a lengthy column in the Atlantic, Ethan Zuckerman renounces the ad-based business model he helped set up and calls for the online community to switch to a better solution.

As a Web developer working in the late 1990s, Zuckerman devised a method of displaying an advert that could exist independently of the site that prompted it to appear — the pop-up ad. It was thanks to this new form of marketing that the business Zuckerman worked for was funded and acquired, but now he wants a rethink about the way the Internet is bankrolled.

Related: AdBlock Plus may be slowing your computer to a crawl

“We ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad,” says Zuckerman. “I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good.” Zuckerman goes on to explain how the rush for more relevant (and more profitable) advertising leads to greater surveillance and more comprehensive data collection.

“I have come to believe that advertising is the original sin of the Web,” says the developer, now director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT and principal research scientist at MIT’s Media Lab. “The fallen state of our Internet is a direct, if unintentional, consequence of choosing advertising as the default model to support online content and services.” If you have the time to read through the full article, it’s well worth taking a look at — Zuckerman’s proposed solutions include expanding the number of paid-for services on the Web.

While Zuckerman admits an ad-powered Internet has its benefits — including free and easy access for anyone anywhere in the world — he thinks it’s time for a change. In the meantime, if you’ve ever been annoyed by a pop-up advert, it may be some consolation to know that the man who started it all doesn’t like them either. If you want to alleviate the problem, check out our guides for blocking pop-ups on Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Internet Explorer.

[Header image: Robuart /]

Editors' Recommendations