Several of you asked for an update when we figured out why the Wired.com site got blocked by a popover ad for about five hours on Monday night and Tues morning. I wanted to share with you the result of our investigations so far.
The way ads work on our site, like those of many others, is that we enter into a contractual relationship with an advertiser or their agency to run ads at some rate. In many cases the ads are actually hosted by a third party--in this case the agency that created the ads. Our site automatically pulls the "creative"--the ad itself--from the third party site and then runs it on our own site according to the terms of the contract.
In this case, an ad had been approved by our own quality assurance people, and then, around 10:00pm PST on Monday, the agency had switched the creative to one that had not been approved (possibly accidentally; I don't know yet). Our site started automatically displaying this new ad, and that was the one that took over our site with no close button and no way to make it go away.
Needless to say, it's a bit shocking to me that we let third parties run code (which is what that popover ad is) directly on our site. There's supposed to be an approval process in the case of creative changes, but that's a matter of policy (which was violated this time) rather than technical enforcement. We basically trust the agencies to do the right thing, which is obviously a policy hole that you can drive a bus through. That bus is what blocked our site for thousands of readers yesterday.
We're revising our policies to prevent this in the future, and for now we've stopped accepting such invasive "interstitial" ads. This problem is not unique to us, so perhaps the silver lining in all of this is that our eventual solution may be adopted by others and will help prevent this sort of fiasco--which is as bad for the advertiser as it is the content site and the reader--elsewhere in the future.