Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ads on the Internet

Let's talk about ads. They're literally everywhere. You see them on the streets, on TV, they're on the radio and they're even on the internet. They range from memetic to just plain annoying and in your face.

The Background

This isn't an entirely uneducated rant. I'm a curious person, and since a few weeks ago, I'm working in what's called "internet marketing." In layman's terms: Putting those nasty ads on websites. Yes, I'm kind of on the dark side. Also, I'm quite new, so I haven't seen that much of the tech behind it.

Internet marketing involves a lot of douchebaggery. Not against the people who get the ads, but against each other. There's lots of trickery involved as to how you get ads out while at the same time stopping others from having theirs displayed. Also, circumventing ad-blockers. But that shouldn't really be that new to you. It's business, after all.

Why I'm Writing This

I admit, it's largely due to the whole "please don't block our ads" thing that's going on lately. And, no, this is not propaganda. I don't earn money if I get people to turn off their ad-blockers. I earn money for programming. But... these people have a point. They are getting money ("revenue") for each person who watches an ad in their videos.

Who Gets Money?

That said, I'm not all against ad-blockers. It's just about who gets the money. There's lots of free web hosts that put up ads on their customer's pages. These ads don't benefit the owner of the page, they benefit the owner of the web host. Ads like Project Wonderful, or AdSense or however these things are called, are different. They're revenue ads, earning the page owner money for display/clicks. Sure, some of that revenue goes to the ad company itself, but then, that's how they earn their money and allow people to put ads on their pages to earn money.

Ad Myths

Yes, of course there's myths on internet ads. I'm not sure how widespread the things I've heard are, but I've heard them, which means that they go on this list.

All ads are evil: No. That's broad generalization. An ad, in general, is just as evil as the people who provide it. I can only speak for myself here, but the part of the ad chain I'm in does not want people to be redirected to porn sites. That's bad PR and leads to people blocking you because yes, your ads are evil and so are you.
Then, there's technological possibilities. There's ads that are displayed in so-called iframes. They're effectively another page in the current page, so that offers a lot of possibilities for code to be executed. Then, there's ads like the ones  Project Wonderful uses. I don't know what their ad fetch PHP script does, but the ad you eventually get out of it is a picture with a link to the page and a link that lets you advertise in this slot. Sure, you could try to inject malicious code into a picture, but if you're good enough to do that, you should consider earning legal money with that.

You can make it so the blocked ad still counts: That one came up in the Blip discussion. I don't know who said it, but I'd like to ask that person one thing: How would you know that? Aside from this being fraud, technically, how would one know? Stuff like checking if the ad is displayed is usually done deep in the code. If you know how to cheat the ad counter, you have to be really in the know about the code. And if you are, you probably signed an NDA and are thus violating your contract. Have fun.

The people don't get money anyways: I talked about that already. See above.

To Block or Not To Block

There's a few things I block, and a few I don't.
Dubious ad providers - Block: These are the ones that try and redirect you to porn or worse. If you're using one of them for ads, it's your fault, because I sure as hell don't need malware on my computer.
Pop-Ups - Block: I don't care if they're revenue ads or not. Pop-ups are annoying, and if you willingly put one on your site, it's your fault.
Revenue ads - No Block: These are the ads that earn the owners of websites money. They're an indirect way to pay them for their service.

How to Get Unblocked by me

I'll try and unblock people who earn money through ads, but you guys need to help me a bit. Here's the things you should put up somewhere for people to see:

Tell us you get money through these ads: Because if you do, non-douchebag people will be glad to unblock and support you.
Tell us what to whitelist: Most of the time, ads come from some third party ad provider. I, as the person with the ad-blocker, need to know which provider that is. I need an URL to feed to my ad-blocker's whitelist. If you don't know, try to find out. You're allowing someone to embed stuff in your page, so you should know who that somebody is.
Tell us how to whitelist: Not everybody's technologically literate to use ad-blockers past the standard configuration. Link to tutorials, or explain, how to whitelist a page in the most common ad-blockers.

And Finally...

Even though I have name-dropped two companies extensively, I'm not trying to advertise for them. I used Blip as an example because it's a big thing, and Project Wonderful because I had a look at their stuff and it looks good.

And to those who get ad revenue: You're not selling out. You're getting paid, albeit indirectly. And there's nothing wrong with getting paid.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Putting the Crime in the Novel

I'm writing a crime novel. Well, I'm trying. There's still research to be done, details to be figured out and all that. But I'm doing this, and it got me thinking. The cases in these novels have something special. I've singled out a few things I kept stumbling across and thought about them. And since this blog is here for me to ramble, here it comes.

By the way, I'm focusing on police procedural, since that's what I'm intending to write.

The Serial Killer

I swear, I can hear you groan from over there. From the future. Serial killer plots have been done to death and back a few times. They were also the first kind of common plot to come to mind when I started thinking about this. Because even though they're ooold, they still work.
Why does it work? The serial killer is the ultimate clock. After you've found your second victim killed in the same way, with details no one outside the police could know, you know you've got yourself a serial killer. You know they'll strike again, somewhere, some when. While you wish that no more people get killed, each new crime scene could give you the little hint you need to nudge the investigation in the right direction.

The Dead VIP

It's just one victim, but damn if this victim wasn't somehow (in)famous. It doesn't matter if it's a pop star, a local politician or a bank director. The murder itself has most likely been committed out of personal reasons.
Why does it work? Again, there's the clock. This time it's not from the killer, but from outside. It's the higher ups, trying to keep things under the cover, the press, trying to get to the big scandal and the dead person's affiliates. Take too long and the killer's gone forever, and you're up to your head in dirty laundry.

The Controversial Murder

This is a variation on the dead VIP. Again, the focus is on one victim, but this time we're going the hate crime direction.
Why does it work? Like with the dead VIP, the clock is everyone around you. There's going to be debates, double standards and even more dirty laundry. I'm not sure how I should feel about this plot, since it's easy to get into exploitation territory. Also, if you touch on issues, you'd better do your research.

It's Personal

It doesn't matter if it's a serial killer or a regular murderer, but something about this case is linked to the main investigator character. Some share their secret involvement with their colleagues, some don't and do incredibly stupid things.
Why does it work? This time, it's not about a clock. This time it's about stakes. In the examples before, the stakes were vague and purely those of the police force as a whole. In a personal case, there's much more at stake for the main character than the others. That means that your main character needs to be especially compelling. Still, please refrain from throwing reality out of the window. The last time that happened, the investigator kept his relationship to the suspect (his brother, who's also a serial killer at large) and stuck to that decision. I wanted to punch him through the pages for being that stupid.

Besides The Plot

While I'm sure there's enough variations on the aforementioned plot, as well as plots I haven't thought about, there's no completely new plot. Sure, your protagonists are cops, and most of the time, they play by rules. Still, since there's only a bunch of different plots, the biggest difference between all of them is the characters. I only speak for myself here, but I can say that while I remember a few distinct police procedural plots, I've read about more interesting characters than I think I could remember. They're important too, since they're the people we're going to spend a whole book with. Having good characters also makes it possible to turn single books into series. In the end, it's all about the execution. As usual.