Raising Awareness

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Advertising On The Network


Can Universities advertise on their institutional Web site? What forms can advertising take? What are the dangers associated with advertising? This article addresses these issues.


On 5 June 2000 the author ran a 90 minute seminar on the subject of "Advertising On The Network" at the JANET User Support Workshop held at the University of Cambridge [1]. Out of a total of around 80 delegates at the workshop, almost 40 chose to attend the seminar. Recent postings to the website-info-mgt Mailbase list [2] confirm the interest in this topic by members of the Web management community in UK High Educational Institutions.

This article aims to further the debate on the pros and cons of advertising based on the issues raised at the seminar and on the mailing list.

What Do We Mean By Advertising?

What do when we mean when we talk about advertising on networked services? There are several possibilities:

Ads on a Web site
This is probably the area of most interest. It could include permanent advertisements or rotating advertisements managed by a advertising company such as DoubleClick [3].
Sponsorship of Web Sites
A permanent advertisement for a company which acknowledges the provision of facilities, services or support. An example is the Sun SITE Northern Europe FTP archive at Imperial College [4].
Advertising On Email Lists
There are several ways in which email lists can be used for advertising. Advertisements could be sent to members of mailing lists. Unless the message is relevant to the purpose of the list, this technique, known as spamming, is normally frowned upon. An alternative is for a mail or list service provider to append a brief message to all messages sent to the list. HotMail [5] and eGroups [6] use this technique (which is sometimes known as viral marketing to advertise their services.
Advertising Provided By Other Desktop Applications
Advertisements could be provided by desktop applications, besides Web browsers. A number of providers of desktop applications, such as the Eudora email client [7], provide free versions of their software which are funded by advertising revenue. As described in an article on "Externally Hosted Web Services" [8] several Web services, such as Web statistical services, feedback services, etc. are funded in this way.
Advertising Our Own Services And Facilities
As well as generating income by hosting advertisements from third parties, or saving capital expenditure by providing applications which contain advertisements we may wish to advertise our own services and facilities. This could include both academic (such as advertising our courses) and income-generation aspects (advertising our conference facilities, accommodation for use in vacations, etc) of our institutions. An example of this use of advertising can be seen on the Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE [9] (illustrated in Figure 1). The ads are managed by an in-house Perl program. Further information about the ad management system is available [10].
Use of Affiliate Progams
Use of affiliate programmes, such as those provided by Amazon [11] and Blackwell's Amazon [12].

Advert on the Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE
Figure 1: Advert on the Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE

When the subject of advertising on the network is raised, it is possible to interpret this as meaning advertising one's own services on third-party's networked services: for example advertising a course at a University using a banner ad on Yahoo! Since the aim of this is usually to attract visitors to one's Web site, this raises the issue of other ways of attracting visitors to the Web site. For example, should institutions provide Web currency, such as Beenz [13] on their Web site as a means of attracting visitors?

In this article, however, we will limit the discussion to the hosting of advertisements on institutional networked services.

Advertising: The Advantages

What advantages can be gained from hosting advertisements?

Income generation
Income can be generated by selling advertising space. As many services are dependent on staff on fixed-term contracts, an income stream from advertising revenue can be very important.
Obtaining services for free
A number of externally-hosted Web services are available for free. They are funded by the advertising they contain. If it was possible to use these services, money would have to be found to pay for a licensed version.
Donations In Kind
As well as financial reward, companies may wish to make donations to an organisation in the expectation of receiving some form of acknowledgement. For example, the UK Mirror Service [14] acknowledges the donation of hardware from Sun (see Figure 2). This form of advertising is known as sponsorship.
Provide a richer experience for the user
Targetted adverts may provide a richer experience for the end user. For example it could be argued that potential new students who visit the UCAS Web site [15] would benefit from advertisements for Endsleigh insurance (see Figure 3).
Funders expect services to develop exit strategies
Many funding bodies expect projects and services to develop business cases for their exit strategies which provide income streams to fund the continuation of the service once the [pump-priming funding has expired. Funding through advertising is one income stream which the funding bodies may expect projects to consider.
Advertising is used elsewhere
Advertising is provided in various academic publications, so use on Web sites is not significantly different.

The UK Mirror Service
Figure 2: The UK Mirror Service

UCAS Web Site
Figure 3: The UCAS Web Site

Although not an advantage of advertising per se it should be noted that if advertising is banned there will be resource implications in policing the ban. How will an institution monitor use of advertising by entrepreneurial individuals or market-oriented business school?

Advertising: The Disadvantages

What are the disadvantages of hosting advertisements?

Detracts from the neutrality of the academic community
Universities may wish to preserve a BBC model, which will enable them to be seen to act independently of commercial constraints.
Adverts may conflict with values of HE community
Advertisements featuring, say, soft pornography, may not be acceptable to many members of the HE community.
Adverts may be distracting to users
Adverts may be distracting and cause confusion between the Web site content and the advertising materials.
Negotiations for adverts may be time-consuming
Entering into negotiations with advertising bureaus may be time-consuming.
Financial rewards may be poor
In light of drops in the "click-through" rates for banner ads, the financial rewards may be poor.
Competition may be detrimental to the community
Competition for the "advertising dollar" between institutions or, say, JISC services, may be detrimental to the community spirit.
Income generated may result in reduction in grants
The income generated from advertising revenue may be met by a corresponding drop in grants.
Internal management will be time-consuming and expensive
Formulating institutional acceptable use policies governing advertising, deciding where the income goes, etc. will be time-consuming.
May contravene the JANET AUP
Advertising on the network may contravene the JANET AUP.


The JANET Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) has been formulated by the JISC Committee for Networking (JCN) [16]. The AUP states that JANET may not be used for:

"the transmission of unsolicited commercial or advertising material either to other User Organisations, or to organisations connected to other networks, save where that material is embedded within, or is otherwise part of, a service to which the member of the User Organisation has chosen to subscribe" [17]

UKERNA [18] have a responsibility for the advising the HE community on the interpretation of the AUP. Informal discussions with UKERNA staff indicate that advertising which is hosted within the institution is not prohibited by the JANET AUP and that advertisements which are transferred by networks other than JANET are also outside of the remit of the JANET AUP.

What Will Institutions Do?

In the light of the advantages and disadvantages of advertising and the limitations imposed by the JANET AUP, what are institutions likely to do? Imagine a scenario in which a department within a HE institution has received funding for two years for a project. The funding body expect the institution to produce a business plan for continuation of the project after the funding finishes. The department may decide that hosting banner ads on the project Web site provides an important income stream. The department can:

  • Simply go ahead and embed, say, DoubleClick banner ad images (<img src="">) in the Web site, wait for JISC or the host institution to complain, argue about current wording in the AUP, be asked to remove ads, refuse, ..., etc.
  • Embed locally-held banner ad images (<img src="">). The overheads of doing this would probably prevent it working with anything more than a few selected advertisers. It means the institution wouldn't benefit from working with agency like DoubleClick who, clearly, have a wide range of potential advertisers.
  • Develop, with others in the academic sector, a shared "" service. This may overcome some of the limitations in (2) above: i.e. the overhead of every service/institution negotiating with advertisers.
  • Attempt to configure the Web server so that all pages containing DoubleClick banner ad images are routed through a commercial network connection. Assuming that the institution wants to continue to route pages that do not contain DoubleClick ads directly over JANET, this would probably require that the pages with ads and pages without ads are held on different servers.
  • Route all pages out over a commercial network connection. But if we do this, why retain a JANET connection (see 6)?
  • Move all the content of the institution to a commercial hosting service on a commercial network.

Six options, all of which apart from (1), are acceptable under the JANET AUP. Whether these options are sensible or desirable is, of course, another question.

It should be noted that JNUG (JANET National User Group) [19] carried out a small survey (with 41 responses) on advertising on JISC services. The final report [20] indicated that 58% of those who responded would be happy for JISC services to raise money by commercial sponsorship or advertising on Web pages. However the following technical issues concerns were raised:

  • Ads may cause Web pages to be slow to load and may degrade the network perfomance.
  • Ads may clutter up Web pages and be visually unappealing.
  • It is desirable to be able to switch off display of adverts.

In addition the following political issues were raised:

  • Advertising may reduce the status of academia and there is a risk that academic work may not be seen as impartial.
  • Concerns were raised about possible conflicts of interests and the appearance of endorsement.
  • Concerns were raised about compromising educational establishments, by having unhealthy links with profit-driven companies.
  • It was felt desirable to provide some form of veto over the type of content which would be displayed.


This article has briefly outlined some of the advantages and disadvantages in providing advertising on networked services. There is clearly a great deal of interest in this topic within the UK HE community. Feedback from the community indicates that there is still much uncertainty as to the what is and what is not permitted under the JANET AUP - a situation which is not helped by the scarcity of relevant documentation on the UKERNA Web site. There is a need for additional documentation covering interpretation of the JANET AUP which should include FAQs and case studies, containing (possibly fictitious) case studies. There is also a clear need for further dialogue regarding advertising within the HE community, which should be informed by developments in educational and public sector communities in other countries.


  1. Advertising On The Network, Seminar at JUSW 2000
    URL: <>
  2. website-info-mgt Mailbase list
    URL: <>
  3. DoubleClick, The Global Advertising Solutions Company
    URL: <>
  4. Sun SITE Northern Europe, Department of Computing, Imperial College
    URL: <>
  5. HotMail
    URL: <>
  6. eGroups
    URL: <>
  7. Eudora
    URL: <>
  8. Using Externally-Hosted Web Services, Ariadne issue 23
    URL: <>
  9. Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE
    URL: <>
  10. Splash Screen Ads, Berkeley Digital Library
    URL: <>
  11. Amazon's Associate Programme, Amazon
    URL: <>
  12. Blackwell's Affiliate Scheme, Blackwell's
    URL: <>
  13. Beenz
    URL: <>
  14. SubSITE Northern Europe, Imperial College
    URL: <>
  15. UCAS
    URL: <>
  16. JISC Committee for Networking (JCN), JISC
    URL: <>
  17. JANET Acceptable Use Policy, UKERNA, version 5.0, February 1999
    URL: <>
  18. UKERNA
    URL: <>
  19. JNUG
    URL: <>
  20. Final Report on Possible Advertising on JISC Service, JNUG, 29 Feb 2000
    URL: <>

About The Author

Brian Kelly is UK Web Focus - a JISC-funded post which advises the UK Higher Education community on Web developments. Brian is a regular contributor to the Ariadne, Exploit Interactive and Cultivate Interactive Web magazines.

Brian Kelly
UK Web Focus
University of Bath
Phone: 01225 323943


Acknowledgements are given to participants of the "Advertising On The Network" discussion group session held at the Janet User Support Workshop on 5 June 2000, Shirley Wood and Andrew Cormack (UKERNA) and Ralph Weedon (Strathclyde) and Andy Powell (UKOLN) for their input to this debate.