Nilay Patel has a piece at the Verge on the availability of ad blocking plugins for the web browser in the new version of iOS. She has an interesting theory of what motivated Apple to allow ad blocking, that it was essentially to attack Google’s revenue model. But the overall piece seems to take the attitude that ad blocking will be the death of the web.
I currently run ad blocking on my desktop and laptop computers, and I plan to run it on my iPad and iPhone when it’s available there. I don’t run ad blocking because I’m ideologically opposed to seeing ads. On the contrary, I actually resisted doing it for a long time. As a consumer of web content, I’m fully aware that a lot of it is expensive to either produce or host. I have no trouble with web sites finding ways to make money, particularly when it allows me to read their stuff for free. If I enjoy their content, seeing ads seems like a reasonable exchange.
The problem is that too many sites allow the ad producers to run rampant. While I don’t mind seeing ads, I despise having them pop up randomly, hogging the display for a predetermined amount of time before I can move past them, taking up a large chunk of the screen real estate including sticking around as I scroll, autoplaying videos, and other invasive techniques.
None of these things make it any more likely that I’m going to buy the advertiser’s products or services. What they do is piss me off at the advertising company and make the host site far less appealing.
While I know not all advertisers do these things, enough do that I finally felt it necessary to block ads. I do periodically check and whitelist sites whose ads aren’t obnoxious. For example, I have no problem with Google’s targeted text ads, as long as they’re marked appropriately. And I firmly believe in rewarding a site that keeps its advertisers under control.
I suspect my attitudes on this aren’t that unusual. For years, we all read magazines where half the pages were advertisements. We usually passed over the ads unless one of them caught our eye, generally because they were advertising a product or service we might find interesting. This paradigm worked for both readers and advertisers. When it’s carried over to the web, I think it still works. Until advertisers get greedy, and push people into blocking them.
So, will ad blocking destroy the web? I don’t know. It might make a lot of commercial sites economically untenable. But it didn’t have to be so. It still doesn’t have to be so. If advertisers enforced some kind of reasonable standard that kept a lid on their invasiveness, and that standard was done in such a way that ad blocking packages could provide an option for users to whitelist those who adhered to it, it might be a win for everyone.
(There’d have to be a mechanism for reporting cheaters. And, of course, some people are ideologically opposed to seeing ads, the economics be damned, but I’m not sure just how much of the population they make up.)
What I’m pretty sure won’t work is blaming ad blocking readers, as some sites occasionally do. A better approach might be to appeal to them to try whitelisting their site, with a promise that they’ll keep advertisements under control.