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I just noticed this on the right-hand side of a question:

image of ad

It looked sort of interesting to me but being new I wasn't sure if this was an ad or not, so I hovered my mouse over it.

It links to "http://math.meta.stackexchange.com/ads/ct/29672?url=http%3a%2f%2fdetexify.kirelabs.org%2fclassify.html&s=cf4200a393772983dd4e7db6662782a70cf15d891f188723ac8ad9769c529697"

So I said to myself "Oh it links to math.meta. This interesting thing on the right must be something from meta that's being promoted. Neat! Maybe there's some interesting discussion happening on meta that I'd like to participate in!"

So I clicked on it and was surprised to find myself at "http://detexify.kirelabs.org/classify.html"

"What?! Did someone hack StackExchange? How did this website steal my click?!"

Then I noticed that the link URL has "/ads" hidden in it. "Oh. That's strange."

When I scan a URL to quickly determine if I really want to click on it or not, 99.99% of the time it's sufficient to just look at the domain/subdomain part. That used to be 100% of the time until I found the above.

Ads should be served from "ads.math.meta.stackexchange.com" (or some similar subdomain) so that it's more obvious what the link is. Or even better, don't bounce through any subdomain of "stackexchange.com" so that it's most obvious.


Edit: I understand that the link is for an advertisement. My point is the URL is very easy to mistake for something that isn't an ad, and that needs to change.

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    $\begingroup$ It's ad for a site often talked about in the math community, as it helps detexify symbols. $\endgroup$ – Roddy MacPhee Jul 29 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ Re: Or even better, don't bounce through any subdomain of "stackexchange.com" so that it's most obvious. My guess would be that they are linked in this way because SE collects (and displays) stats of how many times each ad was clicked. I guess you probably noticed that: math.meta.stackexchange.com/ads/display/29670 $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jul 30 at 7:16
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak, unless it's important to know who clicked the ad, it's not necessary to use a subdomain of stackexchange.com. Domain names aren't so expensive that SE can't afford to buy one for ad stat recording. $\endgroup$ – Peter Taylor Jul 30 at 8:24
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    $\begingroup$ BTW this seems to be more of a network-wide issue rather than something specific to Mathematics Stack Exchange. I searched a bit among the questions tagged community-promotion-ads, but I did not find a post about this issue on Meta Stack Exchange. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jul 30 at 8:58
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak I don't think they would lose the ad tracking aspect by making it link to a non-StackExchange domain. They could use JavaScript click event handlers, for example. $\endgroup$ – Matt Thomas Jul 30 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ not all people necessarily allow javascript despite it being needed to properly display MathJaX $\endgroup$ – Roddy MacPhee Jul 30 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ url=http%3a%2f%2fdetexify.kirelabs.org%2fclassify.html %3a is a special encoding of a colon. %2f is a backslash. this translates as url=detexify.kirelabs.org/classify.html . It's a simple redirect. m.youtube.com/watch?v=0fw5Cyh21TE $\endgroup$ – Roddy MacPhee Jul 30 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ another technicality is meta.stackexchange.com is a subdomain. math.meta.stackexchange.com is a subdomain one step further. $\endgroup$ – Roddy MacPhee Aug 3 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ This kind of redirect is common. It's also possible to make the link displayed not match what you get when you click as Google Search does. (As you've probably noticed if you've ever tried to copy and paste a Google search result and gotten a huge URL.) In general, looking at the domain is quite inadequate. $\endgroup$ – Derek Elkins Aug 4 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ @DerekElkins Yes, it's a common bad practice, but in my view it should be changed anyway. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Aug 5 at 7:19
  • $\begingroup$ w3schools.com/howto/howto_js_redirect_webpage.asp is worse $\endgroup$ – Roddy MacPhee Aug 5 at 11:33
  • $\begingroup$ Somewhat related post on Meta Stack Exchange: Should I have asked this question here instead of on meta.math? $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Aug 5 at 12:19
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Matt Thomas wrote:

So I said to myself "Oh it links to math.meta. This interesting thing on the right must be something from meta that's being promoted. Neat! Maybe there's some interesting discussion happening on meta that I'd like to participate in!"

You thought correctly!

The use of "ads" in the URL is an abbreviation for Community Promotion Ads, which are not "paid advertisements" but promotions voted on by the Community.

Any Community member can propose a spot by posting the appropriate image and URL in that thread, which results in a voting competition for items the Community as a whole would like to support. That Detexify site in particular often is recommended as a way to learn what $\LaTeX$ syntax might best represent a symbol that you know only by sight. Look through the linked thread (there is renewed voting and revision each year) and see what other URLs were deemed worthy of Community support.

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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Aug 5 at 7:19
  • $\begingroup$ @FedericoPoloni: You've added the "feature-request" tag to what was previously tagged as "discussion". If you like I can add to my Answer a remark about the value of the idea of doing the URL differently, perhaps avoiding a redirect, as a feature request. However the point the "new contributor" OP makes is that the present URL "is very easy to mistake for something that isn't an ad, and that needs to change." My post, several day old now, presents the Community Promotion Ads as something that is decided upon by the Community, not by third party advertisers. Are you familiar with them? $\endgroup$ – hardmath Aug 5 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I am familiar with community ads on SE. Personally I still consider them ads (as also the name says), but I see that we disagree. Anyway, I think OP's main point is that redirection to a different domain is deceptive, it should be considered a bad practice, and the SE staff should not resort to it. This, in my view, is a feature request. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Aug 5 at 14:31

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