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For many Internet users, surfing the web can resemble a trip through an old-fashioned bazaar – vendors thrusting products in your face in hopes of attracting you to their display.

Potential consumers are bombarded with online advertisements, the most notorious being “pop-ups” or “pop-unders.”

Heeding the complaints of its customers, America Online announced last week its latest software addition, “AOL Web Pop-Up Controls.” Part of the new 8.0 version, it features an icon at the bottom of the user’s screen which, when clicked, disables pop-up messages from appearing.

While Earthlink and Microsoft recently developed similar services, AOL distinguishes its software by its ability to differentiate between unsolicited pop-ups and those necessary for certain shopping or banking sites.

LSA junior Scott Meves said AOL’s new pop-up feature is a positive response to user demands. “When those ads pop-up, it’s just plain annoying,” he said.

Meves, co-founder and webmaster of EatBlue.com, a popular university website for restaurant discounts and menus, steered clear of using pop-up advertisements for his site.

“We knew people would get irritated if we used pop-up ads. Nobody goes to a website to see advertising. We want to give people what they want to see, and if that doesn’t happen, they will stop coming back,” he said.

Business School Prof. Rajeev Batra said the new software was introduced in response to growing consumer demands and competition between Internet services. “We know clearly that spam and pop-up ads are on a huge growth trend, and a major annoyance to people who wish there were ways to get rid of both,” he said.

Will AOL’s new pop-up software, and others of its kind, change the format of Internet advertising?

A “big change” is coming to online advertising, Business School Prof. Christine Brown said. She foresees Internet ads dividing into two separate spheres, she said.

“I think in the future, the Internet will become a two-headed monster: One set of companies will become more in-your-face and aggressive about getting ads in front of consumers, even consumers who don’t want to see them,” she said.

“Another set of companies will get really smart about Internet advertising and work out how to make the ads more interesting and meaningful to people – in the same way the best TV or print advertisers make their ads entertaining to watch,” Brown said.

Meves said current online advertising is not very effective. “Businesses think if people click on an ad it will help them sell their products or increase traffic on their site, but with me, the reverse is true. If I see a pop-up, I’ll try to avoid them altogether,” he said.

Yet communications graduate student Nathaniel Poor said AOL’s developments will not have a far-reaching effect.

“In the end, it’s not a huge difference,” he said. “It’s just AOL users and only pop-ups. So pop-ups will still mostly work with everyone else.”

LSA sophomore Chad Jones said he questions the necessity of AOL’s new software. “It’s just clicking. We’re just lazy individuals who can’t even click boxes away,” he said.

According to Nua.com, a website that provides Internet statistics and trends, an estimated 605.6 million people use the Internet worldwide. AOL serves 35 million of these users.

AOL’s Pop-Up Controls will be automatically delivered to members in the next two weeks, or are available for download at AOL Keyword: Pop-Up Controls.

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