Rethinking Ads in PDF

Examining an idea in PDF interactivity of previous round.

At one point, Adobe proposed the idea of placing dynamic advertisement in PDF files, and even partnered with Yahoo to give the idea a try. The compaign, called “Ads for PDF” [1], showed that e-book authors can register with Yahoo and submit their PDFs for processing, so that a panel can be inserted when the PDF is viewed just like ad placement in web pages, as shown below (image courtesy of rustybrick).

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The concept is that each PDF file must be submitted to a server to find out keywords that will be used to feed advertisements. Being dymanic, it also must connect to the ad server when viewed. This would hopefully encourage the publishers to publish eBooks free of charge, and get revenue from the advertisements.

The problem is no one wants to be annoyed by the advertisements and Acrobat is far less than the only viewer of Acrobat. The ads can be easily discarded. In fact, the ad server wouldn’t even receive requests from such viewers. With everyone from publisher to Acrobat and Yahoo all hoping to benefit from the ad flow, it is the distribution channel that debunks their wishful thinking.

At that time we explored the similar idea, but with some differences. The information is published here as a historical review. Ads in PDF is not really a totally hopeless idea; some aspects of it may still be worthywhile, in the right form.

The initial preprocessing is also required because keywords need to be isolated. The PDF is to be empowered by built-in JavaScript. The scripts would send SOAP requests to exchange JSON data with the server and to create clickable annotations dynamically. However — and that is a big “however” — in order to do this with Acrobat Reader, the PDF must be “Reader Extended” [2]. Acrobat has put so many restrictions on Javascripts inside PDF that such an approach is practically impossible without Acrobat comes over to authorize every PDF with the special Reader Extension, using some insider data only Acrobat knows. For such a mechanism to work, the service provider needs to buy an Acrobat server, to do such an authorization in real time.

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With the integration of Flash into PDF files, there is another approach to placing advertisements into PDF: as pop-up ads. JavaScript will be used to prebuild a floating callout box (an annotation), with an inner window called a rendition. When the user hovers the mouse cursor on a prelocated word or location, or click on some predefined target, the floating window can be made visible, with the rendition window loaded with a Flash annimation just fetched from the ad server depending on context. Once Flash is handling the user interaction, accounting and redirection can be done with more ease and freedom.

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The beauty of this is that animation can be used with little extra load on the PDF file itself, as the Flash content is fed in real time and via HTTP connection. The PDF can be preprocessed to such a degree that the annotation rendition window can be statically embedded to avoid creation on the fly, which would require additional rights authorized by the Acrobat server. All it needs then is the user’s authorization to open a browser window. That can be annoying, but the user only needs to do it once.

In fact, the approach can be used for more than just delivering ads. It can deliver Flash-based content in general, including interactive content. For example, do you think it nice to display the animation of your company logo when your customer is viewing a flyer, or to display a time-elapsed micrograph when viewing a summary section of a statement? You’re then looking at the right place.

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[1] News brief in 2007 about Yahoo and Adobe teaming up for Ads.
[2] What is a “reader-extended PDF”?

About the Author: Cyphia