uTag – gaming the link economy

uTag logoI’ve been using a URL shortening service on my site called uTag since it was launched a few weeks ago.

UPDATE: I have removed the uTag script that automatically changed my URLs. And for brevity, the technical issues with uTag that I address in this post are:

  1. If the ad banner is left open after visiting a site, the user continues surfing to other websites, and later closes the ad banner, the browser will automatically refresh to the page first visited by following the uTag link.
  2. In the same vein, once the ad banner is closed, using the Back button will simply reload the banner frame, rather than going back to the linking site.
  3. A uTag Death Loop exists, whereby a uTag link to another uTag enabled site will result in an increasing number of ad banners stacked on top of each other. Read below for how this happens.

Put simply, uTag is a monetisation strategy for linking. Several sites already provide link shortening services which have become popular chiefly amongst Twitter users, who need a short link because their posts have a 140 character limit. Examples are bit.ly, is.gd, tinyurl.com, to name just a few. The difference with uT.ag is that it aims to pay people for providing those outbound links.

The utag link will provide an ad banner on the target page and, at the end of a payment period, a share of revenue is deposited into a pre-nominated paypal account. The ad banner sits below the normal page content and can be closed if a user considers it too intrusive, but will the banner become more of an annoyance for people than the revenue is worth? Also, if users hate the banner so much they stop trusting or using your links, then you have a serious problem.

So it’s great in theory – a revolution of the link economy. Whereas people linking out to quality content were in the past building a reputation as a trusted resource, the idea is that now you can still do that, but at the same time actually be paid! But there are still some bugs to be worked out that may turn people off, and away from your content.

The uTag blog has listed a few external reviews of their service, while
Pantsland’s Brad Kellet has aggregated a few responses from his Twitter crowd after he asked for their thoughts on the banner ads.

I’ve implemented the code on my site and, as you’ll see, it rewires every outbound link to a uTag link (UPDATE: no longer). I see three main issues with the service. As Hugo Sharp, one of the uTag developers, responded to these bug questions on Twitter (@hugosharp), I present the exchange here.

utag twitter exchange

The uTag death loop I referred to is a possible scenario in which a uTag link to another uTag enabled site will result in an increasing number of ad banners stacked up on each other.

utag death loop double ad banner

Read the following Tweets in reverse order to see how this outcome, a double ad banner, happened.

utag death loop double ad banner

So a brief experiment confirmed the existence of a uTag Death Loop, or as @hugosharp described it, a potential black hole.

As my last (top) update mentioned, the experiment was unsuccessful in that I couldn’t loop back to my site from Twitter, because Twitter outbound links open in a new tab or window. However if I linked to a uTag enabled site, which in turn linked back to my uTag enabled site, a loop of following those two links could theoretically result in a never ending stack of uTag ad banners.

If a high traffic site was using uTag links they might expect to lose a proportion of visitors who get sick of the intrusiveness, and apparent unpredictability, of the ads. As I mentioned at the beginning, some visitors may stop trusting your links, or using them at all, because of the banner they know they’ll get.

While you shouldn’t disregard the unhappiness of a proportion of visitors, some people may offset that with the possibility of revenue that the uTag link provides.

Mine is not a high traffic site, so with little to no return on the uTag banner ad revenue the uTag links may have to go.

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  2. @holywriter – thanks for also stopping by my blog! I didn’t mean to infer you were unskilled in online communication…

    @Daniel – And published you have been. Mate, when I build my empire of networked bloggers, you will be the first, occupying pride of place. Onward!

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  4. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    First of all: no, I don’t worry about a public blog in a small town, since I don’t write anything scandalous anymore.

    Second: I’ve been blogging – off and on – since 2001. I know what to say and what not to say. Blogging is how I got hired as a journalist over two years ago. If it’s something I feel I shouldn’t write, then it doesn’t go on the blog.

    Thanks for your words of wisdom, but a great deal of thought goes into what I write.