If you have a popular file-sharing program called KaZaA on your computer and suddenly start seeing yellow links to obvious ads on some of your favorite Web sites, this is because a cunning piece of software called TopText was automatically installed on your computer along with KaZaA. Many Web site owners are upset with this alteration of their content. But there is an opt-out procedure (albeit a somewhat cumbersome one) you can use to keep TopText links from being added to your site, according to the company that markets TopText.
We learned about TopText (which was called HOTText until the end of last week) because a number of Slashdot readers submitted a San Francisco Chronicle story about it.
Cyklopz wrote, "...this is quite insidious. I found a link from BankOne's site to Wells Fargo! It crops up all over search engine results as well. Sheesh!"
KaZaA has an opt-out dialog for TopText when it is installed, but Benny Evangelista, who wrote the Chronicle story, says that neither he nor other people he spoke to who had downloaded KaZaA spotted it until they knew it was there and went looking for it.
KaZaA claims over 5.4 million Web users have downloaded their software so far, and boasts on their Web site that "...KaZaA is one of the most active media communities on the net, usually there are over 600 000 users online simultaneously. 90% of users are recommending KaZaA, which is the 4th most downloaded program on C|Net Download.com."
I both emailed and called TopText's vendor, San Francisco-based eZula, to ask if there was any way we could keep their TopText links from showing up on OSDN Web sites, including Slashdot. Since we often use links as integral parts of our stories, we would just as soon select our own, right? Plus there is a little matter of keeping ads apart from editorial material, which is one of those silly ethics things only journalists who care about their personal integrity may notice, but that upset us to the point of irrationality when we spot them.
Assaf Henkin of eZula told me the only way to keep TopText links from marring our sites was to email all domain names we wanted blocked to:
Henkin said it would take "a couple of days" for removal requests to be honored. But at least now you know what to do.
For more information about about how TopText works, go to eZula's contact page and (you must have Flash installed for this to work) click on the "Media Kit" link. Or, for an unanimated but more complete description of eZula's services, check this .pdf file. Note that, although KaZaA is the only eZula "partner" we know about at this time, their media kit boasts of "partnerships with tier one ISPs" and claims their software "...currently delivers your Keyword message to nearly 4 million Internet users, wherever they are on the Web, and this number is growing rapidly as eZula expands its partner base."
Will Web users notice the proliferation of these little yellow advertising links? Will they be able to tell them from the "real" links story authors or Web site owners put in? Will anyone care? Should anyone care? Or have we all gotten so used to ads sneaking into everything from movies (via product placement) to upcoming show "announcements" during the happy talk segments of local TV news that such things don't matter any more?