Posted by Ian
Last month might have been consistently and unseasonably warm, but the temperature of feedback enveloping the homepage was decidedly mixed.
The one issue that stirred most of you to put virtual pen to paper was advertising. Specially, the kind of adverts that both appeared on the homepage and across the rest of the website, and the way they impacted upon your appreciation of or access to our articles.
"I understand that adverts pay for free websites‚" wrote one visitor to MSN, "but can they be restricted to the side and not overlap the article you are reading? I just clicked on one article and found the ad covering most of the text‚ which is really annoying." "Stop all the adverts over news pages!" complained another. "I used to browse your pages daily for news articles and the like, but every time I click on more detail today I get an animated advert covering more of the text!" "Congratulations!" added a third. "Your latest advert has made me change my home page from MSN UK to Mozilla Firefox. As an exercise in intrusiveness it has succeeded admirably."
Well, we try to collaborate closely with the Microsoft advertising department to find a suitable balance between website adverts and website articles, but it doesn’t always work. We’re sorry for those instances where you’ve felt the advertising seemed over-intrusive, cumbersome or downright irritating. All your comments are taken into account when coming up with a strategy for satisfying MSN’s clients in a way that doesn’t alienate MSN’s users.
One person highlighted how the nature of online advertising often appears to verge on the proscriptive. "Whatever was on your homepage today was not evident to me, thanks to an extremely annoying advert. When I tried to click on the X in the top right hand corner‚ it would not go away! I clicked again and again. Then it followed me onto another page that I tried to read. How ridiculous. It’s like being forced to be advertised to. You’re like some advertising dictatorship! Make all these adverts go away or at least be more discreet."
Discretion is indeed one of the keys to successful online advertising – both in a practical sense (by way of its place on the page, and whether or not it ‘opens up’ or stays where it is) and an ethical one. "It’s awful how you can advertise on the homepage on the day of the shootings in Virginia," emailed a visitor to the site on 17th April. "You are sick." This particular advert, a colourful creation which expanded across the whole of the homepage, was quickly removed from the site, but evidently not soon enough.
The second most popular topic prompting your emails in April was mistakes. Our mistakes, that is. "It’s an aircraft hangar‚ not ‘hanger’. Spellcheck anyone?" observed one correspondent. "It’s hard to take your Top 50 restaurants article seriously when you can’t even get their names right! I can only imagine what Gordon RamsAy (not RamsEY) would say…" complained another. "Bob Woolmer was not poisoned by ‘shake venom’"…"It’s bursting at the ‘seams’‚ not ‘seems’!"…"One of your articles is for rocks ‘fiestiest’ (sic) females. It is of course spelt ‘feistiest’…"You have incorrectly used an apostrophe in ‘threes’; the page says "three’s" – this is annoying. Please change it!"…
Ahem. Not a good show.
Elsewhere our judgement was called to account on grounds of taste, accuracy and, indeed, patriotism. "As usual, no mention of Celtic winning the Scottish League on your home page," blasted one correspondent, "but plenty of English rubbish as usual." As memory serves the news of Celtic’s win was featured on the homepage in the sports news headlines. Other "English rubbish" that appeared on the homepage during April included articles on why Wales is better than England, why Scotland is better than England, and why France is better than England. The homepage is arguably less Anglo-centric than it has ever been.
Another email ran: "Two more of our boys killed in Iraq and no mention on your pages? Only stuff about a royal romance? You are hours behind; wake up and smell the coffee." There are two issues here: coverage of Iraq, and coverage of the royal family. On the latter, opinion within the homepage team is divided. Personally I think we do too much of it. Others disagree. What there is unanimity about, however, is the importance of accurate reporting of the ongoing conflict in Iraq and its consequences for British armed forces. We try our best, but in war merely to try is often not enough.
Two people complained about the news headline ‘Muslim charged with terror offence’. Sincere apologies. This was unforgivable; we wouldn’t, for instance, refer to ‘Christian charged with terror offence’.
Our decision to run a link to the Virginia university gunman’s video provoked a lot of debate on the homepage blog, as did the relative merits of 1973 compared to 2007 and the point of St George’s Day.
One person who wondered why we never ran any articles advising people who are underweight will be pleased to know our health editor, Ross, is intending to produce just such a feature in the next couple of weeks.
Finally, a pat on the back for our video team, Chris and Antony, who treated visitors to the MSN homepage to – depending on your point of view – a charming act of nature or a dubious case of camcorder chicanery. "Please give us more videos of the type like the otters holding hands," requested one correspondent. "It so brightened my day. All the news at the moment is very worrying, so that was a ray of sunshine."