Group aims to make online ads more compelling

Network World |  Business

SAN FRANCISCO -- Looking to breathe some life into online advertising, a group of high-tech companies, advertising agencies and online publishers have formed an alliance to promote the use of interactive banner ads that may appeal more to Web surfers.

Called the Macromedia Flash Advertising Alliance, the group's goal is to develop standards and common practices for creating ads using Macromedia's popular Flash animation format. The group's first contribution, the Macromedia Flash Tracking Kit, was released on Thursday and provides advertisers with a tool for keeping track of clickthrough rates on Flash-based ads.

Web surfers have been notoriously nonplussed with banner ads on the Internet, and the medium has come under fire for being ineffective and unimaginative. Macromedia hopes the alliance will help broaden the audience for its Flash technology, and at the same time help to pull the online advertising industry out of the doldrums.

"There's a lot of people who say that advertising on the Web sucks, and they're right, for the most part it does," Macromedia Chairman and CEO Rob Burgess said in a keynote speech at the Macworld Conference and Expo Thursday morning.

Just yesterday, Yahoo met analysts' profit expectations for its fourth fiscal quarter, but slashed its profit and revenue forecasts for 2001. Among other factors, the results suggested a continued slowdown in online advertising spending, a major source of Yahoo's business.

Charter members of the group include AOL, DoubleClick, Bluestreak, the Microsoft Network, Excite@Home's Enliven division, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, CNet Networks and TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York.

Flash allows Web developers to create short, animated clips that can be downloaded fairly effectively over a dial-up Internet connection. The technology also lets advertisers create more interactive ads with pull-down menus and other navigation features. Around 96% of Web browsers include Flash player software, but only around 1% of online ads make use of the technology, Burgess said.

Membership to the alliance is free, and more information can be found at Macromedia's Web site.

Turning to Mac OS X, Burgess wouldn't say when Macromedia will be ready to ship versions of its software for Apple's new operating system, which is due in stores March 24. Prototypes of Fireworks 4, Dreamweaver 4 and Freehand were shown running natively on the Mac OS X platform, but in a brief interview after his keynote Burgess declined to say even whether the applications will be ready by year-end.

"We'll make this happen as quickly as we possibly can," he said. The first product that will be released for Mac OS X will be FreeHand, he said.

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