Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

The Scourge Of The Internet

You’re calmly washing the leftover spaghetti off your plate and hear a loud knock on the door. Thinking it’s your Amazon delivery, you fly down the stairs to pick up your parcel. 

You open the door and see a man inside a dark suit with a cheerless expression. Without saying a word, he flips open his wallet and shows you a badge.

Its golden embossed letters spell out, “Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

As you’re wrapping your head around the gravity of the situation, he looks you straight in the eye and says, “I guess I don’t have to tell you why I’m here today…” 

Now I don’t know about you, but experiencing this spiel would make my blood run cold. And I’m not the only one.

It turns out this is a classic FBI technique. And more often than not, the person opening the door breaks down and confesses to something.

Which may sound strange, but we all have skeletons in our closet. Although probably none bigger than Ethan Zuckerman.

You see, Ethan invented one of the greatest irritations of the modern world—the pop-up. 

The young programmer was at the start of his career, working for an early webpage hosting company called Tripod.com. If you’re unfamiliar, the company became known as the first platforms that let non-techies build their own simple web pages for free.

It being 1995, millions of people check out the new web builder (which Ethan wrote), but the increased traffic isn’t earning Tripod any money. It’s actually costing thousands of dollars in hosting fees.

In hopes of turning that round, Tripod rests its hope on ads and flies out salesmen to pitch to the big brands.

But one particular sales talk goes horribly wrong. 

To persuade advertisers of Tripod’s huge audience numbers, the sales rep shows off user made websites at random. And during a meeting with Ford, a page comes up that shows images the car manufacturer definitely doesn’t want to be associated with, nude photos of dudes doing it.

In fear of losing ad revenue, Ethan’s bosses asked him to invent a way to keep ad banners away from websites parading gay porn. Which was super difficult considering algorithms that recognise content didn’t exist.

After mulling it over, Ethan created the illusion of separation by creating the pop-up. And broke the internet.

For over ten years, people had to manually click the dozens of pop-ups away by hand.

Twenty years after creating the scourge of the internet, Ethan publicly apologized. 

But still no word from the inventor of the Microsoft pop-up. No, I don’t want to sign up for OneDrive!

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach