A few years ago in our book, Designing Web Sites That Sell, we discussed some of the pitfalls of dynamic, personalized sites. The example was one that showed the inherent risks of, say, truncating a particular person’s name.
Since then, we were unable to reproduce the problem we highlighted in the book. Until, today:
Notice that Christopher, has become truncated to read as “Christ”. If you don’t think your site is immune to such unintended consequences, think again. Early last summer, in a well-publicized gaff in the New York Post site (publicized mostly by rival The New York Times), ran a story about a murderer who put his victims body parts into a suitcase. Google’s newly launched AdSense service dutifully scoured the page for words that might hint at the best text ads to present on the page. Unfortunately, it chose luggage dealers.
More recently, we’ve seen drug ads pop up next to Rush Limbaugh stories and pierced jewelry next to Janet Jackson pieces.
Advice: Dynamic, personalized sites or targeted ads can lead to some sort of embarrassment. Sites should:
a. limit the amount of unnecessary “personalization”
b. make a clear distinction between news content and everything else
c. create exception engines to prevent these types of problems
With corporate marketing divisions taking immediate action the day after 9/11 and trademarking certain phrases that seemed to be a business-savvy way to take advantage of the horror, I’m not sure that any such censorship needs to apply.
Personally, I find the graphic descriptions of the murder more distressing than advertisements posted by a computer. If anything, the ads give me something to laugh about, something to help me deal with the horror of what I’m seeing.
It’s unfortunate that this is the only purpose I’ve found advertising to server for me, though: humor. Amazon’s recommends products is, theoretically, the first useful ad program online I’ve found that works out to purchasing—but even then, I can see how the humans have tainted the program by inserting demands that customers be sold Segways and newly released CDs.