Ads. Like 'em or not, they keep the lights on.
As readers, ads might direct us to a valuable service or product, or they might just be a distracting annoyance. For publishers, ads can provide an added service to their audience and a significant revenue stream, but only if the ads reach their intended audience, and that audience interacts with them. For the advertisers themselves, ads can be a great way to generate sales or awareness, but only if people don’t ignore them. And therein lies the problem: lousy targeting, over-exposure and distracting ad formats have made people prone to do just that, which significantly reduces the benefits to all involved.
To make ads work, you have to ensure their relevance to the audience you’re advertising to, which has always been our guiding principle here at Stack Overflow (that, and not have them be annoying). But even then, not every ad is relevant to everybody, and we’ve been working on a way to fix this. We want you to only see ads you want to see, which in turn means that our advertisers will only advertise to people who are actually interested in what they have to sell (which is sort of the holy grail of display advertising).
If you up vote an ad (particularly if a large number of people do) we know the ad is on the right track. If you down vote one, we’ll ask you why, and won't show you that ad again.
Apart from improving your experience, this will also provide a wealth of information as to which ads and advertisers work and which ones don’t, and it will ensure we avoid wasting our advertisers' money and your time (we hope!). All good things.
There are a few things to note:
Not all ads are votable yet: some high volume campaigns closed before we decided to roll this out, and we want to make sure we show those ads as many times as we promised to. Until we are able to better gauge the exact effect this feature will have on our overall inventory, we’ll let these run their course as originally sold.
The house ads promoting other SE sites and new proposals will also be exempt from voting (these are generated dynamically, and down voting it would mean you’d never see new proposals or sites again).
And because we keep track of your voting through a cookie your settings will not carry over from one computer to another, and you’ll lose your preferences if you clear out your cookies.
Oh - and like voting elsewhere on Stack Exchange, voting on advertisements is completely anonymous: voting on an ad will never send any personally-identifying information to the owner of the ad (or even us!).
Now, go forth and vote!