The dark side of free online tools
I’m a big proponent of using free, readily available tools to enhance coverage on your news website.
Today, the Des Moines Register showed us that sometimes you get what you pay for when using free tools. Their use of a pop-up ad, side-of-the-page ads, live video and a live chat on the home page created a tsunami of advertisements that likely turned off even the most dedicated of readers.
[Note: As a former web editor at the Register, I complete understand why this happened (using two free tools, both of which include their own ads). But as a reader, it was frustrating to deal with.]
What happened: President Obama was in Des Moines today, and the Register pulled out all the stops with live video and a live chat related to the event. The problem: They use Livestream for live video and CoverItLive for live chats, and both of those services insert their own advertising.
Combine that with the Register’s own high-impact ads, and this is what readers saw:
1. A pop-up ad for the Fireplace & Stone Center.
2. Side-of-the-page pillar ads for the Fireplace and Stone Center.
3. A 15-second pre-roll video add before the live video started.
4. A 30-second pre-roll video before you could enter the live chat.
But wait, there’s more. Once you make it past these four ads, you’re not home free. Two more ads pop up as the video plays (5) and live chat continues (6):
So what is the lesson here?
Should we avoid free services? Absolutely not.
But we have to understand how these services affect the user experience, especially when we start to combine them.
The Register was doing a good thing here: giving readers live coverage of an important event. And to some readers, it might have been worth wading through all of the advertising to get to the content. But I’m guessing that wasn’t worth the time for many readers.