Saturday, November 1, 2014

Manipulating Those On-line Ads

Now that I’m retired, I’m on my computer and on the Internet more than ever. I’m increasingly aware of the ads that appear in the sidebars of browser windows and in some emails. I’ve also noticed how the content of these ads changes over time.

In the beginning, we were all getting offers for Viagra, or ones asking if we’d like to enlarge our penis to improve our sex life. These were dumb on so many counts, the most enormous being that more than half of the people seeing them don’t have penises. What a colossal waste of advertising money! Over time, the software companies refined their placement algorithms (or whatever tool they use) so that those promotions appear mostly for viewers who have an interest in augmenting their equipment.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the things I surfed about in researching my blog topics started showing up in my sidebars and in the banners at the top of the window. They kept appearing for weeks after I’d looked them up, even though I no longer had any interest in them. What’s worse, my initial inquiries were solely for the purpose of the post at hand. I never had any personal plans to wear or buy bow ties, for instance. I just researched all the various styles for a blog entry about their renaissance.

When we moved into our condominium, I purchased a MacBook Air, so I’m on my laptop much of the time. My husband purchased an HP laptop, which turned out to be a lemon. He returned it and decided to rethink what type of device made sense for him. In the meantime, I let him use my desktop computer. He’s been spending hours each day searching the Internet for products for his store.

About a week ago, Jagdish replaced his defective laptop, so I’m now on my desktop Mac again much of the time. I can tell which product categories he’s been researching by looking at the ads I’m getting. While these are a step above Viagra, they’re still for products in which I have no interest. I should probably consider wearing a Fitbit activity band, so I know how lazy I am in my new cocoon. But the ads aren’t going to make me buy one, much less become more active.

Likewise, I’m not excited about singing bowls, essential oils and gemstones with “special properties.” I must admit, those ads are a step up from the ones for basement storage shelves. They've taken over my laptop ever since I looked up those offerings at Home Depot. But none of these are of interest to me. It dawned on me that they’re not even visually attractive.

I decided that I needed to take control of my browser and email screens. I made a list of things that I would enjoy looking at in those sidebars and banners. Things that were graphically exciting or that made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Items like freshwater lakes and paisley prints and perennial flowers of New England. And of course, cats. Then I Googled them. Every time I found a website with photos I liked, I bookmarked the page.

Now I’m fine-tuning the process. For example, seemed like it would have gorgeous photos, but their homepage is loaded with earrings. Hence, no bookmark. The blog ThreadsofHistory probably won’t help with my browser ads, but I bookmarked that one anyway. “Musings and tidbits on textile design and creation, from prehistory to the modern day” is SO in my wheelhouse. The author stopped posting in 2010, but there are dozens of entries for me to read when we’re snowed in this winter.

Another site mentioned textile print blocks, so I searched on that and turned up some interesting graphics on worth bookmarking. This in turn led to block printing, but that was a visual dead end. By now, I’m sure you get the idea.

For the process to work effectively, I need to visit each of the sites I’ve marked just before I shut down my browser each day. That flags those sites as most recent and also as frequently visited, which moves them up in the ad hierarchy. It also puts a smile on my face as I log off. I’m still figuring out how many of my selected sites I need in order to shut out the ads I don’t want to see. This plan is, after all, a work in progress.

But that’s one of the great things about being retired. At this stage of my life, just about everything is a work in progress. Especially me.

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