Psychology, Society, Tech

Stealth Advertising

English: QWERTY keyboard, on 2007 Sony Vaio la...

English: QWERTY keyboard, on 2007 Sony Vaio laptop computer. Français : Le clavier QWERTY d’un ordinateur portable Sony Vaio de 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In magazines you see “features” which are in fact adverts, you can tell what they are because they will say “advertisement feature” somewhere, yet on the internet some advertisers seem to be able to get away with insidious tactics.

Download pages are often a minefield of big colourful buttons marked “download” only one of which will be the actual thing you want to download, the others being adverts for security scanners, toolbars and other such extraneous stuff that end up clogging up the computer at best and costing the unsuspecting user cash at worst.  I have noticed that these stealth ads have leaked out onto other parts of the web, I saw one that was designed to look exactly like the placeholder box you see when a browser plug-in has crashed, complete with worrying words like “your computer needs an upgrade”.  Being an old hand at this computing malarkey I recognised it for what it was and ignored it but someone less knowledgable might click on it and download the scanning tool or whatever it was, again often paying for it too – even if it was simply by it being ad-supported, thinking that it was essential.

This is the same tactic used by virus writers, using authentic looking error messages to panic un-knowledgable users into a download.  This rarely works in the real world, if you saw in a magazine a box that said “your heating has failed, you need to upgrade it now or your house will explode” you’d know instantly it was absolute bull, the tactics in that world are to plant seeds of doubt “has your boiler been serviced recently?  Could it be a potential killer?  Bwah ha ha ha ha.”  But the immediacy of computers and the internet, combined with the still mysterious nature of how they work to some people makes getting the sale that much simpler.

The message is clear; be careful what you click on.  Unless ad-funded toolbars are your thing, of course.

Disclaimer – I know not what adverts appear below this post as I have no control over them but it would be supremely ironic if there’s a box down there, right now urging you to click it to fix errors with your pc…

Design, Gadgets, Tech

Personalised News

English: A simplified version of the RSS feed ...

English: A simplified version of the RSS feed icon.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometime in the late nineties I wrote a sci-fi story and in one scene a man gets home, taps a touchscreen on the wall of his kitchen and instantly brings up a personalised news feed programmed to display things that interested him and also set up to specifically look for news items featuring certain keywords, to highlight any news about a specific ship in this case.

Now just a bit over a decade later I’m just getting to grips with this exact same thing on my own personal tablet computer, though without the spaceship captaining wife.

Websites, including these WordPress blogs, can provide what is called an RSS feed which summarises each article published and these can be picked up by reader apps.  These have been around a long time admittedly but these readers are now becoming more sophisticated and stylish.  On my Nexus 7 I have tried Google Reader, Flow Reader, Google Currents, Flipboard and Feedly.  Some apps actually access your Google Reader subscription list to find out which feeds you want to receive.  You can even view other RSS equipped sites in your WordPress reader.   The icon above signifies that a site has an RSS feed.

These apps are the solution to the at time overwhelming volume of information that can come at you from the internet.  This sheer volume of articles is one of the reasons why I sit down to write something for this blog and just decide to have a mug of tea and watch tv instead, I just don’t know where to start.  With an RSS reader on a phone or tablet I can skim through articles, share useful ones to Pocket for use later on my desktop PC and read anything that I can just enjoy in the moment – all while half-listening to the tv.

The nice thing about these modern readers is the way they present the content.  You can filter what you see so if you have a news website’s feed you could refuse to acknowledge the existence of articles about X-Factor winners or only view articles about the weather or Wills and Kate.  Then depending on which app you choose you can have a list of your incoming torrent of news, divided into subject if you so wish or displayed to you as a virtual, stylish, one of a kind digital magazine, or a mixture of both.  Of course as it’s tablet/smartphone based (although you can use PC RSS readers or websites too) you can have notifications.

The future of news, personalised and delivered to your sofa.