"I'm a total blog-whore," says Steve Kaplan - and that may just benefit some victims of Hurricane Katrina.
A few weeks ago, Kaplan, a junior information sciences student at Carnegie Mellon University, noticed blogs going wild over Million Dollar Homepage, the Web site of a UK college student who sold advertising spots on a 1,000-by-1,000 pixel grid. That's all the site is - just one small ad after another, side by side. Each spot, no matter how tiny, can be clicked through to another site.
"Once the blogs picked it up," Kaplan says, "within a four-day window, the guy pulled in a quarter of a million dollars."
Some people have already made their own Million Dollar Homepages, "but nobody had been successful," he adds. Now Kaplan and roommate Keith Torluemke have put together www.nickelsforkatrina.org to benefit Red Cross efforts to aid Gulf Coast residents. At a nickel a pixel, they are selling 10-by-10-pixel spots for $5 and have gathered $1,035 by press time. The site has the potential to raise $50,000.
As with its for-profit predecessor, smaller spots compel quicker clicks. "If you see an animated banner on the side, in your face, you know what they want," he says of the usual Web ad. Some of the tinier click-worthy spots include links to blogs and to countmeblue.com, which sells Lance Armstrong-inspired blue bands to show one's blue-state affiliation. There are also links to things Kaplan doesn't even understand, such as the "Afronova" spot, which leads to a photo of a payphone with a "THIS PHONE IS TAPPED" sticker on the receiver.
"I have no idea who the guy is," Kaplan says. In fact, he says he knows few of the site's supporters.
Although Kaplan will be leaving on Oct. 20 to join a CMU group helping Katrina victims near Jackson, Miss., the site may have a more permanent effect on both hurricane victims and the Web.
"We will keep what you bought up there for at least two years," he says, "until we graduate."