The Rise and Fall of the Banner Ad

The death knell for the banner ad is tolling and few are lamenting its decline.

The death knell for the banner ad is tolling and few are lamenting its decline. Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times certainly isn't shedding any tears. The advertising design has for years assaulted site visitors with "Click Me!" shout-outs, dare ad tactics, and slow website loading times.


There's something to be said for its influence on the history of the web. For the past twenty years the banner ad has, in a way, dictated how the web has evolved. Back on Oct. 27, 1994, the website HotWired (now Wired) set in motion the advertising revolution. It had 14 companies launch banner ads on the site, which included MCI, Volvo, Club Med, 1-800-Collect, AT&T, and Zima. Wired recalled on the banner ad's sweet 16 that AT&T's first ad read: “Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? You will.”

It was a success that allowed companies to monetize pages and expand across the web. The companies selling the ads could now know how many people clicked on the ad link or saw the page. This direct ad-to-purchase transparency led to advertisers learning how effective banner ads really were, and they weren't. This meant advertisers could get a seat at the top of the page for a bargain price. But in order for site owners to turn a profit, there needed to be a change in business model—page views became paramount to the success of the website. Traffic numbers became the life-blood of editors and content creators.

With such a rush to monetize the web, no one thought about any other way to create advertisements, until recently. Mobile has forced curators to be more creative in how they utilize this space—it's a medium with limited screen real-estate. If you go to your Facebook app, you'll see ads seamlessly integrated into your news feed as if it were part of the site.

Some websites have made a change, Jonah Peretti of Buzzfeed has managed to integrate native ads in the form of sponsored articles on his site. He didn't want to see another site's speeds hampered and design ruined by a banner ad.

“When a site loads slowly, you blame the site, but it’s actually often the banner ad coming from somewhere else online.”

It's a new day of integrated ads that flow with the design of a site, rather than looking like an ugly outsider that disrupts the content of the page. The mad-rush of the early web is over, but it was an new device that forced innovative change. Let's just hope the “I dare you to click here” ads don't follow.

In his interview with Big Think, Jason Kottke takes his own view on how the web has created a "free" mentality, which has driven site owners to rely on banner ads that were a reliable source of revenue. But you should never stop trying new ideas.

Read more at the New York Times

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.