Virtual Reality

We’re testing advertisements across the network

We’re testing advertisements across the network

If you see any ads that are inappropriate or have any questions about this experiment, please let me know by starting a new question…

I am not quite comfortable with above. Using meta to report inappropriate ads sounds like a sensible idea at a first sight but the thing is, it was already tried with job ads at Stack Overflow and has proven to work rather poorly.

That prior attempt of handling ads issues at SO, it eventually ended in a technical solution allowing users to just directly report inappropriate job ads – and, given that meta complaints essentially disappeared after this was rolled out, I would say it has proven to work well.

I suggest that this time, we just skip repeating that painful part of learning about how meta is a poor way to handle troublesome ads and proceed directly to the way that was proven to work so much better with job ads at Stack Overflow.

There is even a ready feature request for that: Please give us an easy way to flag inappropriate ads

Given that experiment is going to run for over half year at multiple sites I would expect that effort invested in porting mentioned SO feature used for job ads will be sufficiently paid back.

answered 2 days ago

Please forbid animated ads.

From the discussions on this Meta.SE question and this Workplace Meta question (there are probably others), it’s pretty clear that the community does not want animated ads — especially obnoxiously-animated ones with lots of movement and eternal looping.

SE’s longstanding policies on the sites with curated ads (SO and a few others) bar(red?) animation, for good reasons. Those good reasons apply to the rest of the network too; even though the mechanics of delivering ads have changed, this aspect of our quality standards should not. This announcement is currently silent on the subject of animation, which is why I’m raising this here.

(I’ve also seen one report so far of a video ad. Video is a special (noisy) case of animation and should similarly be barred.)

answered 2 days ago

I’m glad to hear that topical ads are still your goal. It’s obviously going to take a while to get there, so in the meantime, are there any coarser filters that can be applied? Certain types of ads that are not generally inappropriate might nonetheless be inappropriate on particular sites; can we do anything about that?


  • ads for mail-order meat (like Omaha steaks) on Vegetarian & Veganism

  • ads modelling lingerie, underwear, or bikinis on some of the religion sites (I have seen such ads on Workplace)

  • ads promoting particular political or religious positions, well, almost anywhere but especially on Politics, Skeptics, and (other) religion sites

  • ads for essay-writing services (i.e. homework sites) on Academia, Writing, and maybe language sites (we have some persistent spammers from these services; I assume they also do ads)

  • ads for junk science, paid-entry journals, and the like on science sites

Since there is some level of implicit endorsement when a site runs ads, can we figure out how to prevent the eye-rollingly inappropriate “endorsements” on specific sites? That bikini or suntan-lotion ad that’s topical on Travel could be problematic on Mi Yodeya.

If you can’t do per-site customizations of the ad parameters, is it possible to exclude sites from this trial entirely if they make a good case for it on their metas?

answered 2 days ago

You don’t need revenue from impressions/click throughs from active community members. We already freely give you the content that’s generating the “100K page views per second”, despite being such a small, small footprint of the total traffic on the website.

In other words, you’re already monetizing us and our contributions. You don’t need to monetize us further.

“Reduced ad privileges” should be an absolute priority implementation for the rest of the network, and this ad testing should be opt-in for registered contributors. The only reason you need us to see these ads during testing is because the “drive by” traffic that will generate the majority of the views are by nature not going to provide the feedback you need to flag unsavory or malicious ads.

answered 2 days ago

Which sites is this experiment running on? As far as I’ve seen so far the exact list of site hasn’t been documented officially.

I’ve said this before, but I really think that this kind of drastic change should be put on the relevant meta for each site that is part of the experiment (as long as it’s a reasonably short list, otherwise it should be a globally featured meta post).

What does this mean for the principles SE has upheld previously for ads? The old standard was “excessively considerate, ludicrously on-topic”, what has changed here? What kind of ad does SE consider inappropriate now? I’ve really no idea anymore on where SE draws the line for acceptable ads. This is probably the biggest damage this experiment has caused so far, it thoroughly confused the SE policy on ads.

What exactly are you testing for? Six months is really not a test in my view, this is close to establishing a new status quo for ads on SE. What parameters is SE observing here and using to decide on whether to go forward with the ads permanently?

answered 2 days ago

For several days I’ve noticed that all “community ads” have disappeared, and intermittent “team” ads (irrelevant to the site) popped up for at least a day. The particular site is tex.stackexchange.

The community worked pretty hard to craft ads to call attention to non-stackexchange resources that would be useful to newbies first visiting the site — resources that provide more general information and facilities than can easily be conveyed in a question/answer format. But these are now gone.

Will they come back?


This was a and has since been fixed. Thanks for pointing it out!

answered 2 days ago

I am quite sorry, but I don’t think I can help you at these conditions.

Please don’t get me wrong, but as I read this announcement I can’t help but to get a “let’s try an see what happens, maybe they won’t get too angry” vibe – I really don’t get how much research has been done BEFORE and how much you expect to learn from the users having to face actual incidents.

we’re learning about what advertiser networks will work for us and which can offer the quality of ads that we desire.

By this claim, it seems you are still trying to learn what ads provider are working for you. Luckily enough, it seems we agree on the basis of which ads are just intolerable.

Inappropriate ads are full screen takeovers, punch the monkey, scam, pornographic, racist, etc. Some divergence from topic is ok but we’ll monitor for exaggerations.

While this is indeed good to hear, the mere fact we are considering the eventuality of things like these is quite worrisome to me. I would love to think this is just an hyperbole, an extreme example of a “will never be” incident that could happen to the best of the provider, but from what I heard so far I am not sure. Some users like Monica had to see lingerie ads on “The Workplace”… Really???

I will be quite frank. I am used to see a lot of ads pushed to mobile “freemium games” – being the tech pony means that every time a relative or friend notices something odd you will be the one that will be asked for suggestion.

I always wondered… why some companies that produce pegi-3 games are somehow able to get trustworthy kid-safe ads provider straight from the start and some other producers strive to understand that online casinos advertisement in a game meant for kids probably isn’t very appropriate. Why some managed to just use “safe” providers from the beginning while other are still learning what to use after years… I don’t know.

I am not sure that some providers are really deserving to be checked in the first place, especially on a network like SE. While I totally understand your needs, I somehow feel the approach here is a little too much on the “reactive side”. As far as I get it:

  • multiple providers are being tested, but I can’t access a list of the ones under scrutiny to see if we are talking of high-quality established ones or high-paying scammy-looking keep-changing-names-every-two-weeks malwertising factories. So far, the empirical data I get from some really bad samples that were posted seems to indicate that at least part of them are more close to the second option.
  • I can’t know where they are being tested, so basically it is a “can came up at any time” situation. That means that from my viewpoint it is useless to try to do some testing since I would just lose my time trying to even decide where I should be doing the testing in the first place (apparently, some sites are getting worse ads that others, so not each site is equally significant. Also, geo-localization seems to be a big part of the issue since I seem to receive far less scam ads that users like ShadowWizard do)
  • I really hope this is just me being pessimistic but I also get a very unsettling “we are still testing which providers work for use, know that some of them could be serving bad stuff since we don’t know” vibe. Yep, right, we are told to flag the bad content and so far it worked for fixing the errors… but I am not sure I want to be the one who will get the honor to report the adult site advertisement he got while at work or the one ads who tried to silently download a nice Trojan on his home computer.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I know you need the money and I would love to get you some in some way. But as now, I am not sure I can really see myself taking part in this test.

It is time for some filtering.


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answered 2 days ago

Thanks for putting this on Meta so we can condense a lot of the information here.

I’m wondering if we’re going to see ads tailored to particular sites in the future.

I’m as glad as anyone that we can keep Joel caffeinated, and since the 2016 announcement and the 2018 update on the ads program, I was looking forward to this move a little, because there had been two major reassurances:

  1. Ads would have a very strict, excessively ludicrous quality control barrier, as Stack Overflow has stood by in the past.
  2. Ads would be topical, if possible, for some or all sites.

Point 1 has been talked about recently by a lot of people and no doubt will see further discussion, so I won’t kvetch about that. I’ll talk about Point 2, i.e. topicality. There was a lot of emphasis a couple years on back on why network-wide ads would be beneficial for a lot of users; namely, that entire groups of non-programmers could be drawn in by ads related to the topics they’re hear to ask and answer questions about. To use Tim’s continued example of Seasoned Advice, there’s a whole bunch of cooks in that kitchen who might be interested in cutlery-related advertisements.

From what we’ve seen so far, there has been no tailoring of ad scope to each site. Arguably the opposite. Seasoned Advice saw some stuff that doesn’t look like a spatula (kudos to y’all for addressing that quickly, though). All the ads seem generic; moreover, I’m getting the impression that SE doesn’t have any quality or scope control over what ads we see – besides dealing with problematic ads after the fact and perhaps having a word with the party responsible. Which would imply that it’s not getting better from here.

So here’s my question: Are we ever going to see topical ads? We’ve got over 170 sites – I’ve given up counting by now – and it would of course be absolutely absurd to expect you guys to somehow figure out a whole bunch of ludicrously on-topic ads for each one. I’d be amazed if you pulled that off. But at the same time . . . not all of those sites are exactly prime ad targets, as had been acknowledged a couple years earlier. Maybe it would be possible to tailor ad topics if only a smaller subset of sites saw ads (it’s easier to filter ads for 20 sites rather than 170+, right)? But from what you’re saying, every site will get these ads eventually, at least in this phase of things.

As Tim said back in 2018,

However, you’re the experts on these topics and we’re very likely going to listen to you.

. . .

Ads aren’t just an opportunity to sell stuff, they’re an opportunity to really show people that we understand a given topic.

It kinda seems like that idea has been given up on, which is a bit disappointing, because I thought it could be an awesome way to forge connections with the network sites . . . but I’d like to know if it’s truly the case that it won’t be happening. Of course, if you don’t know yet, that’s also fine. But . . . this was one of the positive things I thought might come out of this, and I’m not seeing heads nor tails of it.

answered 2 days ago

I am concerned based on the examples cited by Monica and HDE 226868 and what they’ve already seen on the network.

These examples – Bikini ads on Workplace and foreign language ads on Seasoned Advice – seem rather low quality. Frankly, they sound like something that should have been caught before going live.

Can you explain a little bit about how the quality / search for advertising partners / process of getting ads to appear is different from what currently exists? Perhaps that will help us understand a bit more of why these types ads are appearing when many of us are accustomed to higher quality ads (or fewer ads due to privilege level).

answered 2 days ago

It seems that this system into which I have been investing my time, mostly by answering questions, has taken an important pivot in the business model.

I understand that organizations need revenue. I understand that although I thought of it as “investing”, and I have spent many days learning the community standards and working within the communities here, these “investments” have no weight in the economic decision.

I also understand that we, management and the contributing user base, have built a brand, a powerful reputation, and a market presence. Also, that blank screen space is a tempting placement for ads, and that you, the economic owner of this space, have the means to open that blank space to ads and monetize the goodwill we all have accrued.

Nevertheless, even with all my understand and compassion, it is a loss. It is another great, cooperative, Internet venue turned into a revenue engine. This may be your only option. Supporting this operation is expensive. When I saw the announcement of the enterprise version, “Teams”, I was pleased that you had found a way to thread the economic needle.

I read this move as an indication that “Teams” is failing.

This may be a move of desperation, in which case please communicate that. It may be that the earlier placement of community ads was a strategic probe and the good words that came with it was a deliberate manipulation and deception — management clothing itself in a shining mantle of virtue. With the ambient cynicism in my world, without testable, transparent communication from management, it is difficult for me to take another view.

This is your site, and you may do as you wish. My loss is the illusion that I was a valued part of it.

Is the day coming when answers are presented, one per page, starting with the least up-voted, surrounded by ads and encouraging notes that the best answer lies just ahead, through the next click?

answered 2 days ago

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Generating revenue from non-technology sites will enable us to dedicate more resources to meeting your needs so this is good news!

I’d like to hear more about this “good news“. The response from Stack Exchange staff on the Photography site (see What can Stack Exchange do improve this site to better build a photography community of practice here?) has been quite underwhelming, with a lot of glib “this will enable the community” comments and clearly no reading at all of the existing community conversations even when I provided links to them.

Are there any active plans for helping sites like Photography reach their potential? To be completely honest, this feels like an afterthought to monetization (and therefore, the claim of “good news” a little… doublespeaky).

answered 2 days ago

As a point for historic reference, you may want to consider the Spanish Fork, when the Spanish-language Wikipedia contributors left for a forked version of the project when Wikipedia announced it would consider running ads. It is why Wikipedia still does not run ads, puts more focus on its nonprofit status, and has so much focus on fundraising by donations instead.

(Searching for stories to link to for more information, I found this one and vaugely recall that the story might also be in this chapter of a book that is not handy for me at present.)

Of course, even if a sufficiently critical mass of regular contributors to SE got so upset by ads that they chose to fork and leave, such a group would still face challenges of funding server bills, development costs, non-community moderation (DMCA etc.), and face an uphill battle for visibility. However, such a community might choose to manage the finances with greater transparency and orientation towards the good of the community instead of optimizing for shareholder value. The existing SE could get closer to that if it chose to do so.

It seems that lately, we’ve seen an increasing level of the SE team getting away from user-centered design and listening to the community (just one example here), and this ads initiative with all its flaws and lack of basic considerations (esp. around site appropriateness!) is the latest in that pattern.

Maybe there is a sense that the ongoing contributions of the community are less important than they once were as a result of SE having already built up such a large database of useful content; this site or any mirror would continue holding significant value even if all new contributions stopped tomorrow. However, I caution against getting too comfortable in that position, and driving away contributions that are still core to the long-term success of SE’s business model.

answered yesterday

I block all ads, on all websites, without exceptions. Here is my feedback:

  • All ads are spammy.
  • All advertising networks are bad.
  • All ads are low-quality.
  • I don’t care how carefully you vet them.
  • Ads are not good content.
  • If you have to sell ads to remain in business, your business model is, in the long-term, unsustainable, and you should be focusing your efforts on transitioning to a sustainable business model.

answered yesterday

I don’t think monetization on it’s own is bad, you need to keep the servers running the employees paid and happy. But I will echo some sentiment on the part of others here; if you think “Reactive” is good enough, you’re wrong.

It might be 1 strike or 3 for some users. I run u-block origin, most of the sites I visit are white listed; If i enjoy their content they get my ad views. However when those ads become malicious or obnoxious those sites lose that white list status… and they stay there. Several large sites are on that list for a fairly lax approach to dealing with the issue.

So sure be “reactive” in your experiment; but bear in mind that alot of users will be running their own experiment. Transparency can only help your case, but if we never learn about ad-partners that you no longer work with, or reasons for slips in the ad quality; We have no incentive to turn ads back on.

answered 22 hours ago

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Stack Exchange sites are the only sites I have ever whitelisted in my ad blocker. The second I see an animation, I’m going to block all your ads. Your choice.

answered 2 hours ago

I am more worried about the next move.

OK, you have realized that your current buziness model is not so efficient and you need ads to make the sites running. I am not an expert and I should leave the technical complaints to the more qualified people. Some may even feel sympathetic and support this decision. Personally, I’ll use my precious ad-blocker whenever I get annoyed and if the ad-blocker is out of hand (like when I’m on mobile) then I’ll just curse. No problem.

But I’m imagining the situation that this model has a poor outcome, i.e. the ads get very few clicks due to the fact that most people are not interested in seeing them and block them. Then what would be the next move? May we get the message “please turn off your ad-blocker, or else you won’t be able to see the content” whenever we visit the site? That is when the things get really ugly.

answered 1 hour ago

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Youtube offers its content creators a way to monetize their efforts – the ad revenue that
the company earns is in part earned by content creators’ efforts; and as such they get a fraction of ad revenue.

Have you considered that approach for ads displayed on SE network?

  • If you do so, you encourage quality content

  • If you fail to do so, you actively demoralize and discourage content creators who made the sites work, by earning money off the backs of their efforts.

answered 18 hours ago

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