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N.Y. Times tries pop-up ads

The newspaper's online edition says it has received few complaints from readers about the controversial advertising method.

    The New York Times on the Web has been giving its users a little surprise: windows that pop up on their computer screens and display ads.

    Other networks, such as GeoCities, recently have started using the controversial advertising form, called "pop-ups."

    But the fact that the Times is now using the ads--and has been for a few months--with almost no negative feedback perhaps is an indication that the once-scorned form of advertising is now quietly gaining acceptance, or at least tolerance, among Netizens.

    Companies on the Internet are always in search of better ways to advertise. They are constantly finding themselves caught in the bind of trying to deliver their messages effectively while not offending Netizens, who tend to be a prickly bunch.

    For instance, mainstream companies would just love to flood email boxes with advertisements. There is no better direct way to reach customers than by sending them personalized ads. However, while many disreputable companies use unsolicited email, mainstream companies that have dabbled in it have quickly found themselves labeled as spammers and have faced an onslaught of protest.

    The New York Times does, in fact, send out email, but only to those who go through the registration process. Subscribers are presented with two prominently displayed checked boxes when they register. One says, "Yes, send me email regarding new site features." The other says, "Yes, send me email with information from our advertisers."

    Unless the subscriber unchecks the boxes, he or she will receive the email.

    Last night, for instance, a Times advertiser sent out a message to subscribers offering them free investment software.

    So far, the Times has received very few complaints, said Chris Neimeth, vice president and director of sales and marketing for the New York Times Electric Media Company, the wholly owned subsidiary of the New York Times Company that runs the Times's online edition.

    And it has received virtually no complaints about its pop-up ads, Neimeth said.

    Neimeth said that just a few months into the trial, users seem to be accepting the ads. That may be because of the way the Times administers the program, he added.

    While GeoCities opens a new browser that then stays on the computer screen, the ad the Times delivers remains for five seconds and then disappears. If the user clicks on the screen he was reading, the ad disappears immediately, Neimeth said.

    The Times also uses cookies to make sure that a subscriber will only see an ad once in a day. And it limits the places where an ad will be seen. For instance, an ad will never pop up on the front page or in any front page story, he said.

    Neimeth said the Times is very watchful of that careful balance between ad delivery and alienation.

    "Pop-ups are delivered in a manner that's sensitive to our consumers," he said. "We want to make sure we're developing as positive an experience as possible. We're trying to figure out ways to make this work and we're very sensitive to our consumers. We don't want to deliver a negative experience."

    At the same time, he added that it's important to continually experiment to find the optimal way of delivering ads.

    "We feel this is a very new industry and it's important to experiment and see how you can deliver value to users," he said.

    Along with email to subscribers and the pop-ups, the Times also has experimented with what it calls microsites: small, company-sponsored sites that specialize in particular areas such as leisure activities or business travelers.

    "We're trying to figure out different ways to deliver information to our users in a manner that they want," he said. "We have to be flexible in trying different things."