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My name is Juan M and I'm one of the community managers here on the network. You can read more about some of what I'm working on here and here.

For several years we've had advertising on technology-related sites. But many of our sites aren't about technology at all, so we haven't sold ads for them. That hasn't been a hardship since Stack Exchange sites require only a small investment from the company to set up and keep live. Thanks entirely to the efforts of your community, this site has become an amazing resource on the internet. Generating revenue from non-technology sites will enable us to dedicate more resources to meeting your needs so this is good news.

The test starts May 21 and our advertising team will be monitoring to see how ads are performing. We don't know how many ads will run on this site. It could be just a few or a bit more. In either case, these ads will be carefully vetted and we'll be keeping watch to continue to provide good content.

If you see any ads that are inappropriate or have any questions about this experiment, please let me know by starting a new question and tagging it with . This is a work in progress and we are expecting a time of learning and refinement as we move forward.

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    The edit history for this post is highly concerning. – forest May 21 at 1:13
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    @Juan to make it clear, you mean we'll have animated ads in this site? – Shadow The Princess Wizard May 21 at 12:28
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    @ShadowWizard No, we will continue to maintain our high standards for ads and will not go down that route. We want to do this right and add value across the board. – Juan M May 21 at 15:49
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    @Juan so why did you edit this part out? – Shadow The Princess Wizard May 22 at 6:47
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    @JuanM I'm happy to see the experiment. I saw an Adobe ad that, out of the corner of my eye, sure looked animated. I haven't gotten it again on new page-loads to check. Could you have someone check to make sure something didn't sneak through that your rules don't permit? Thanks! – Monica Cellio May 24 at 3:07
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    @JuanM I have a screenshot, but only of the last pane (if it was in fact animated like it seemed to be -- it went by too quickly). I'll email it. – Monica Cellio May 24 at 15:58
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    @JuanM I emailed you a screenshot of that ad a few days ago. Tonight I saw this one and it was definitely animated -- just a change from one text to another, advancing-slide style, so not obnoxious but not static either. Maybe that's what happened with the first? Have y'all loosened your rules around this kind of animation? (Not expressing an opinion; just seeking clarification.) – Monica Cellio May 29 at 1:43
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    Thanks for the update. As animated ads these seem fairly benign, compared to things that blink, flash, move things around on the screen, and other such noise. Seems worth testing to see how users respond. – Monica Cellio May 29 at 19:01
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    I've now seen some ads that had more objectionable animation -- see my answer. I think y'all ought to revisit your animation policy. – Monica Cellio Jun 2 at 4:57
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    I know websites often do advertising, but this one really sucks – Andrew Grimm Jun 3 at 4:29
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    @DavidK you might be interested in recent complaint at MSE: Ads on SE sites are flashy and resource-intensive, "...These ads certainly don't meet the standards SE set for themselves in the past, ads were supposed to be "excessively considerate, ludicrously on-topic". So either the standards have changed, or the ad providers don't meet the request standard, or both." – gnat Jun 15 at 14:54
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    @JuanM you call this 1000% scam site "high standards for ads"?? Sorry, but your definition for high standards is very far from my own. I'm very disappointed with SE for choosing money over quality when it comes to ads. (That awful site was shown as direct ad on SF&F site) – Shadow The Princess Wizard Jun 18 at 11:29
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    @JuanM six months is a long time to run without an effective way to report problem ads. I've made a request on MSE for the ability to flag ads. (I started to ask a question here, as you requested, but decided to post there because this affects other sites too.) – Monica Cellio Jun 18 at 19:52
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    @JuanM, I just spent five days using only a tablet and phone to access SE. That'll happen a couple more times this summer. Desktop-only solutions really aren't practical for lots of people. (Yeah, I don't see the ads on my phone, but I do on my tablet. Doesn't mean I have an easy path to posting a screenshot from there.) Code changes were needed to support the ads in the first place; shouldn't some minimal flagging UI be part of that? – Monica Cellio Jun 18 at 19:57
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    @JuanM sorry but I really can't see how you're going to avoid such evil ads in the future. Once you use ads provider allowing them, you can't control what we get. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Jun 18 at 23:17
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I'm totally understanding that ad-revenue is how free-to-end-users sites and resources stay that way (bandwidth etc isn't free). I'm not even offended by the notion that SO might want to make a profit. So I'm all for ads as a concept if they are done tastefully and in a SFW way.

I have to say though that so far it isn't exactly filling me with confidence. I understand that mistakes, hiccups and the good ole fashioned unexpected happen sometimes but the experience and communication so far has reflected poorly on SO as an organization. Especially one that is well-funded and with a tech-centric basis.

SE: you won't get animated ads!

Monica: here's an animated ad

SE: Oh yeah actually you will be getting animated ads

I'm seeing a lot of "we didn't know" and "we thought we could" - not exactly coming across as a professional effort there. Rather than giving us "maybes" why not actually go an talk (or email/slack/whatever) to the advertising team (or ad content providers) and get some actual information?

Some things really are unknowable until you dive in and put something live - I get that (I know from personal unpleasant experience - believe me, I wish I didn't!), I'm not sure Animated Ads: No->Yes can suddenly do that 180 flip without something being messed up organizationally somewhere. If it's a contractual issue with an ad delivery partner then internal communications failed (since seems no-one told anyone in the community team about it) and if it's a technical issue with filtering then the QA process failed. Either way it makes a bit of a mockery of the claim about ads being "carefully vetted".

Speaking of which I understand that testing and QA departments aren't (and can't be) perfect, and I understand that their resources are finite. If a new "experiment", especially such a potentially emotive issue as Ads is something of an unknown but SO lacks sufficient capacity to test/QA it sufficiently then why push it live on to one of the busiest non-technical sites lock stock and barrel and see if it floats?

Making it an opt-in test (same as was/is done for the Custom Questions test) seems a far safer option - Workplace SE has no shortage of regulars (and I include myself) who would likely sign up for such a test and be willing to provide feedback in a way that would limit the potential exposure from any of those hiccups I mentioned earlier.

If something gets put live on a main site without even the grace of an "opt-out" option then that's not a "test" - that's production and personally I'm a lot less inclined to be accepting of unknowns and hiccups in that scenario.

As a side note not directly related to the advert-experiment, I found some of the content of the Meta SE threads linked in the main post here problematic - like many SE users I know, a good deal of my SE browsing is done while I'm at work and that means keeping things looking reasonably business-like and "under the radar", at least visually. While I work for myself I spend the majority of my time on-site at clients' offices and appearances do matter. That means I'm cautious about where I visit in the network when in an office setting - that means things like avoiding Movies SE etc (where I might expect to encounter screen captures in questions and answers).

I would normally expect links to the main Meta.SE to be "safe" - especially where they are coming from SE staff members. So seeing posts with a high density of pseudo-memes and animated GIFs was an unpleasant surprise.

Could such content in posts from SO staff be either avoided or at least warned about when linked to in the future? Otherwise I'm going to find it increasingly restrictive on where I can safely click!

PS: The above replaces a.. grumpier version of the same post. The original had led people to believe that I have an issue with Juan M - I don't. I'm not particularly happy with the way this "experiment" has been handled by SE but I don't hold that against anyone in particular.

PPS: For sheer comedy value (given the above) I think almost every advert I've seen on TWP today has been for a Stack Overflow service!

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    The information I provided was given as soon as I received it. Because this is an experiment, we are having to modify in real time. What I fail to understand however, is why you think it's ok to passively attack me. Still, I can understand your reasons for your lack of confidence in the communication so I'll look to improve that. – Juan M May 31 at 19:18
  • advertising practices indeed feel somewhat troublesome as of late – gnat May 31 at 20:21
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    "Also I know I risk coming off as curmudgeonly here" That doesn't appear to have been a risk, it seems more like an active decision. Just FYI, the humans that work here are human too, and the other 'risk' there is any valuable feedback being lost in what perceptively seems to be an ad-hominem attack. Juan could have easily just redacted the previous version, he didn't, because he was fully prepared to tell people "Look, this happened in real-time and nobody quite expected it, so we rolled with it." You want total transparency, you want perfect professionalism: pick one. – Tim Post Jun 3 at 13:46
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    @TimPost With all due respect I'm not asking for "total" or "perfect" anything. I have no problems with the redacted/unredacted nature of the OP here. I do think the seemingly disorganized way this project is being run reflects poorly on SO as an organization and I'm feeding that back, again I don't want or expect "perfection" just better than this. Also I have no problem with Juan as a person - as I seemingly have to keep on repeating (since every time I comment to this effect it gets deleted). My problem is with the content of the linked meta SE posts: pseudo-memes, GIFs etc.[1/2] – motosubatsu Jun 3 at 14:25
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    The only comment I've made regarding any person was when I referred to Juan as a "great guy" in response to his first comment because I wanted to express that I wasn't attacking him. That comment was deleted and my words from that comment were misrepresented to make it sound as if I had actually been attacking him further! [2/2] – motosubatsu Jun 3 at 14:25
  • Sounds like a bit of misinterpretation (which is easy online). Just saying, whenever you lead in with "Not to [sound | be] [thing]" it's almost always your brain saying "Hey, that sounds a lot like [thing]" and it makes everything else taste pretty sour. We're also not terribly ... happy ... that things went unexpectedly regarding not having the ability to filter out animations during the trial (something we were certain we could do) and realize it makes us look less than organized, but it's just one of those things that happened live :/ – Tim Post Jun 3 at 14:30
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    @TimPost Misinterpretation is a common problem in text-only communication as you say - especially when dealing across cultural boundaries as SE sites do. I'm aware of the "I'm not racist but.." type of statement but (and here's where we seem to have another misinterpretation possibility) that's not even what I'm saying, I'm acknowledging that my feedback might come across as a bad-tempered and negative but I can see how that might be unclear and problematic. I shall attempt to re-phrase. – motosubatsu Jun 3 at 14:48
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    @TimPost I've re-written my post to hopefully better get my concerns and feedback across. – motosubatsu Jun 3 at 16:46
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I've seen a few animated ads now, and while some of them have been fine, others are intrusive. Animation should not be happening at a velocity or scope that continues to draw attention away from the main page content. Static ads are fine, and ads that do the Powerpoint-style "advance to next set of text" once are ok. But I've seen some more intrusive ads:

  • This Ram ad had three or four "pages", and in addition, moved text around on each "page". That was very distracting.

  • This eBay ad "swipes" the right half every few seconds to show a new product. I believe there was also motion on the left side, maybe the "shop" button sliding in or something. When I first saw this ad I noticed an "X" that led to a "confirm you don't want to see this ad again?" dialogue, and I said "yeah, not interested". I was pleasantly surprised to see that we could banish specific ads like that -- but it didn't work. The eBay ad was back the next day.

  • I saw an ad (with some animation) that was then replaced with a second ad. Even though the second ad was static, the act of replacing the first (a green insurance ad, also with in-page motion -- didn't get a screenshot before it was replaced) with the second (I forget what, but white-ish background) functioned as distracting animation. (Belatedly, it occurs to me that perhaps that was one ad with a very different last page and/or a delay in its animation loop.

  • I've just seen another ad (sorry, don't know whose) that looped its animation instead of getting to the last "page" and then stopping.

  • (Added 2019-09-12:) Tonight I saw two different ads, both from Xfinity, that were quite active in their animation (fireworks, things moving quickly, etc). 1 2. This specific source of ads warrants review.

Could you ask your advertising folks to reduce or eliminate animation in ads and cycling/looping ads within a page? I know I could use an ad blocker (at the cost of the community ads I want to see), but this isn't about me -- it's about the first impression we create for visitors to our site. There are too many sites out there loaded up with flashing blinking dancing crap that you can't dismiss and that keeps you from reading the actual content you came for; let's not give people reason to think we're becoming one of those.

Finally, could you give us some sort of "report ad" functionality right on the ad itself? For community ads there's a link to the meta post where they were proposed, so there's a place to leave feedback. Here, all we can do is tediously take and upload screenshots to share with you in hopes that you can track them down. That's inefficient and I'm sure a lot of people aren't going to bother -- but silence does not mean consent here; it means "too much trouble so I'll install an ad blocker". I've written a feature request on Meta.SE to request easier reporting, since this affects several other sites too.

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    Completely agree. There is a Spotify one I have been seeing (which is funny as I already subscribe to Spotify) that's animated as well. I REALLY don't mind advertisements on the network - I have always whitelisted the network as a whole - because I get a lot out of these sites, but animated ones just feel gross for the most part. – patricksweeney Jun 3 at 12:53
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    3 days later, I am almost positive every single ad I have seen since my original comment IS animated........ – patricksweeney Jun 6 at 13:05
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    I saw another bad one today that just looped back and forth between two screens for about a minute, and it was very distracting. Unfortunately didn't snap the first screen before it stopped. i.stack.imgur.com/4EpzO.png – David K Jun 14 at 13:30
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The biggest thing that makes me loathe advertising is the very substantial technical load it places on my browser.

  • What was once a dozen page elements loaded from one site suddenly becomes hundreds of page elements loaded from dozens of sites, from redirects through multiple layers of ad brokers.* This slows or even prevents page load, because it dramatically increases the "risk surface area" of packet drop. At 3% drop, 200 packets=6 lost. At 10% drop (think mobile), 20 drop and 2 retries drop.

    • it doesn't help that the main page intentionally refuses to specify element size (width=486 height=80) in the calling language; aiming to defer that to the ad. At best this results in page "leaps" and mis-clicks as slow content is filled in.
  • The ad components are very demanding on the CPU or RAM (causing swap) - lagging the browser and causing poor performance -- a big deal on a site with composition windows! ** Also a big deal on browsers powered by battery - load is time!

    • this is especially punishing for those with older ("not the latest") systems, which IME describes many of SE's best contributors (there is correlation between "have time to post" and "don't have money for newest shiny").
  • You disable browser caching, so the site becomes more balky to navigate. (advertisers demand you do this, because browser caching doesn't play well with ad freshness, rotation, and validity of clickthru codes; bugs force your hand.)

If I were king, I would have SE host ad content right on SE servers in JPEG or PNG format (generated by rendering the ad in a sandbox and snapshotting it). That breaks adblockers, malware, animated ads, and packet-heavy redirect chains. But then, ad brokers wouldn't do business with you if you did, and that's the crux of the problem. No such thing as a little pregnant / halfway crook. Either you're in the ad game, or you're out.


* I have reset my cookies, viewed a single Wikia page, and found 40 sites have placed cookies. I kid you not. Every hostname takes at least a 3-way handshake + an out-and-back (5 packets), and having 60 hostnames involved isn't uncommon - 300 packets must fly to load the page.

** I've come home to find my computer's fans on max; I had checked weather and forgot to close the browser. I hope you enjoy those bitcoins, weather.com!

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