It's the rare World Wide Web page that doesn't have at least one advertising banner.
They've become part of most people's World Wide Web experience, and it's clear they work.
Dan Boyer, who runs a news website at www.lvtimes.com that has been operating since October, noticed that the number of visits to his site increase dramatically when he entered into a deal with Yahoo!, the Internet directory.
Boyer has links to Yahoo! on his site and, in exchange, Yahoo! displays one of six different banners advertising Boyer's Web site when users type in particular keywords. As part of the agreement, Boyer can't have links from his site to any of Yahoo!'s competitors, like AltaVista and Lycos.
The site has registered about 350,000 "hits," which is Internet slang for the number of times computer users have clicked on links to his pages. Most of the traffic has occurred since Feb. 1, when Boyer, 31, entered into the agreement with Yahoo!
The agreement "doesn't make any money at all, but you need traffic to get sponsors, and Yahoo! is instrumental in getting us sponsors," says Boyer.
The site concentrates on news and sports in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, with a special emphasis on high school wrestling.
But the increasingly sophisticated way in which banners are working on the Net raises some questions, too.
The banners have grown more complicated, with embedded Java applets that display some fairly complex animations. These banners, especially the more complicated ones, increase the download time for Web pages. It also increases the chances that users will experience delay problems as the ads download. Diminished browser performance, or stalling, and at times computer lock-ups related to the complex banner ads are not uncommon. The delays and related woes are reason enough to consider ways of bypassing the ad banners.
Another sign of the growing sophistication is the way most search engines have software that selects specific banners to display, which usually have a direct reference to the topic or topics of a specific search. If you are searching for automobile parts dealers, for example, there's more than a good chance ad banners with an automotive theme will appear in your Web browser along with a list of possible Web sites matching your search terms.
On one level, the ads may actually help a person in their Net search, although this is by no means guaranteed. During a Web search for this article, the relatively benign search topic of "banners" turned up dozens of links to pornographic sites, where banner trading is a common way to increase traffic to the sites.
For some time there has been strong philosophical opposition to banners on the Net, although the choices for software that would block or eliminate the banners has been, until recently, limited to users of UNIX operating systems, or to those computer users comfortable working with source code.
The choices have grown somewhat since the first Web filter, which is now called WebFilter, but was called something unprintable in a family newspaper when it was first introduced in September 1995. Still, most software aimed at the general computer user works with Windows 95 or Windows NT, which leaves out those who still use Windows 3.1.
If eliminating the Web banners is something that interests you, a good place to start is one of the Net's more informative, consumer-oriented Web sites, www.junkbusters.com, which has links to several of the more common Web filter sites. (To access the specific area of the site that has direct links to the filter software developers, click on "Links" from Junkbuster's home page and then scroll down to the Web filter section.)
One of the nicer ad filter products is AdWiper from Web filter specialists WebWiper Inc. It's shareware ($17.50), but the programmers allow users to download the complete version of the software to try it. You can access it from www.junkbusters.com, or directly through the company Web site at www.webwiper.com.
The one drawback to AdWiper is that it works only with Internet Explorer's 4.0 browser on machines running either Windows 95 or Windows NT.
Another Web banner filter, WebEarly, available at www.webearly.com, also requires Windows 95 or Windows NT. It's technically a Web accelerator, but eliminating banner ads is one way of improving the download speed of your browser.
It also collects e-mail and other important information from the sites you visit, which can be helpful. A trial version is available from the WebEarly site, but you'll need to register the software, and pay $27, before all capabilities of the software work.
Mac OS users should consider another shareware product, WebFree, a control panel addition that works with all Macs (Power Macs and others) using at least System 7.1. Download the latest version (1.1) from www.falken.netwebfree