Panels Network: Overlays That Aim To Inform, Rather Than Annoy

picture-416We’ve all seen the ads and screenshots that pop-up when you hover over keywords on blogs. For the most part, they’re annoying. But what if those pop-ups had actual useful information in them? That’s the idea behind Panels Network.

A key feature of these overlays is that they’re not just about links, they also pop-up over ads. So, for example, when you hover over a 125×125 ad on TechCrunch (see an example on this demo page), you can find out information about the advertiser. Think of them as kind of like an excerpt from Wikipedia about the company.

And it’s not just standard information about the company. These panels also house screenshots of the company’s website, a map of where they are located, any recent news about the company, job listings, financial news, reviews, and also the ability to shop (if applicable). And the panels remember what section you last clicked on, so the information you find most relevant will always be front and center.

The idea is to make the ads more useful, by giving more information about the companies. As a result of this, they’re seeing a 50% to 500% increase in click-throughs, Panels Network CEO Craig Barnes tells us.

So how does Panels make money off of any of this? Well, the idea at first is advertising. Around 20% of Panels are taken up by contextual ads. But eventually, the company has more elaborate plans, including possibly working with companies to tailor their own panels, and control the way they are shown on other sites.

The service, opening in beta today, will be free, at least initially. But the company is being selective for who they will let in at first, with only a few hundred users being allowed to sign up. Installing the panels on your site is as easy as placing a line of code on the page.

Down the line, Panels Network also hopes to make an iPhone app with the same information you see in the panels. The idea there is to get users used to the idea of the information found in the panels.

The Portland, Oregon-based company has raised $2.5 million from Barnes as well as several angel investors, so far.