Strong opinions, weakly held

An adult discussion of ads

ArsTechnica explains why they ran an experiment Friday that hid their content for people running ad blocking software. It’s a very grown up and pragmatic explanation, and it’s almost too obvious to even quote. The point I found interesting was the discussion of the advertising death spiral — when advertising impressions go down, sites have to take on ads that pay more per impression — those are the ads that take over the whole page, hide the links you want to click on, and so forth. Those ads are awful for users and many publications are running them on the front page. If I ran an advertising-funded site, and I could increase (or maintain) revenue by either shutting down ad blockers or presenting more obnoxious ads to the people who aren’t running ad blockers, the decision would be a no-brainer. I’d prefer to inconvenience the people who think they should get my content for free every time.


  1. And I will keep running ad-blocking and script-blocking as long as there is intrusive content, malware-infecting ads, and related problems on the net. 🙂

  2. I can’t seem to find that $2 sarcasm mark… ;P

  3. Maybe Ars is hit harder because it’s a geek-heavy site, but would a site like CNN really get heavy ad-blocker traffic? “My Mom” only runs an ad blocker because I installed one when I was over there.

  4. Mike has the right idea there, even if it’s bluntly stated. Here’s the problem: a lot of sites run ads that are intrusive, distracting, or downright irritating.

    I run ad-blocking software myself, although I frequently have to turn it off to see the sites I am working on properly. It stays off for a while because I forget.

    And then someone somewhere pops a popup on me, or has a loud, jittery sidebar ad that makes it impossible for me to focus on the text, and the ad blocker comes back on. That reminds me to restore ad blocking.

    It’s not because I believe I should “get the content for free,” it’s a self-defensive maneuver to keep my brain from being stomped on. And advertisers who feel they have to stomp our brains probably should rethink their strategy, because they’ll get aggressively filtered.

  5. I don’t use ad blocking software… I find that more often than not, on sites that allow intrusive and obnoxious ads, the content is as bad as the ads. My solution isn’t to disable the ads, but to stop visiting the site.

  6. @room34 Ultimately, that’s what I’ve been doing. Of course, that means I don’t read a lot of video game review sites or the Washington Post any more.

  7. I think Sugar Publishing has the right idea: better integrate ads into your content so they are better in-context and more relevant.

  8. I don’t mind ad-blocker-blockers that aren’t obnoxious about it – I like to get a warning that explains what is going on, rather than just have a page that doesn’t work.

    Dailykos has a panel that shows up when Adblock is on that asks you to turn it off or subscribe, but it still shows you the page content. That’s another reasonable way to do it.

    I think Salon does something weird where content just doesn’t show up if you have ads turned off, and it doesn’t explain it well. One of many reasons I never go there on purpose.

    What would be good (from my perspective) would be a truce between ad-blockers and content sites, so that a deal can be worked out whereby content sites can reliably detect and block the delivery of content to ad-blocker-equipped browsers, without the constant technical arms race having to continue, while allowing a standard mechanism for informing the visitor of what is going on and giving them the option to allow ads or purchase a subscription. You could use the same mechanism to reliably allow sites to show a few pages to a new visitor so they can get an idea of whether the content is worth turning on ads or paying a subscription.

    People who were really determined to block every ad could use some other plugin, but I think there are a lot of people out there like me who are just trying to keep from drowning in ad spam. I cannot read a media site peppered with animated ads, just can’t.

    The onus is really on the media sites to figure out how to come to terms with those readers who don’t want to see ads. Most of us don’t want to hurt them, but we feel strongly about ads, and we don’t have another choice. I don’t feel guilty watching TV with Tivo, and I don’t feel guilty reading media sites with AdBlock Plus.

  9. So just to be clear, using a DVR to skip commercials is ok but blocking online ads is not?

  10. “I don’t feel guilty reading media sites with AdBlock Plus.”

    Hear, hear!

    I don’t recall signing any contract with any site, and until they start paying for my 3 grand in computer gear, my expensive internet connection and the power to run it all, view ads I will not.

  11. If you enjoy a Web site that is funded through advertising, and you view the content but block the ads, then I would question your ethics. My metaphor would be this — let’s say you knew a secret way into the movie theater and you could sneak in and watch any movie you liked without paying. Just because you are able to do so doesn’t mean that it is ethical to do so. In the end, what winds up happening is that these sites either go out of business, or are forced to reduce their quality because they can’t pay the good writers that we like. They’d meet the same fate if people didn’t view them at all because of the ads, but it seems like an extra kick in the face to go to the sites and read the content without the ads while they’re on their way down.

  12. Metaphors like the “movie theater” are useless and senseless.

    The movie theater belongs to someone else. They can regulate it however they want and charge whatever they like for entry.

    However, I bought my computer. I bought my monitor, my internet connection and all my other hardware.

    Ipso facto, I get to say what’s displayed on it and what’s not.

    And if it’s ads — which demonstrably make my life worse and me more annoyed (as well as the risk of spyware infection in Windows) — they simply won’t be displayed.

    My computer is not a movie theater. I get to decide what’s displayed on it.

    Your metaphor might actually work if I went into an internet cafe, decided to remove internet explorer and install Firefox with adblock with no authorization from the cafe owner. But even then, kind of weak.

    I’m sorry that ad model is crap. Not my fault, and I won’t torture myself with ads to make a crappy business model slightly less crappy.

    I would think it unethical if a site required a paid subscription and I used a subscription I found on the internet to log in there. That’s actually closer to the movie theater metaphor you were searching for.

    But my hardware, my browser == I’ll look at what I want.

    In your view, using Lynx would be unethical.

  13. I used to run ad-blocking software, but I don’t any longer. I simply stop visiting sites that have awful ads.

  14. I (obviously) disagree on the ethics. HTTP is a protocol for the exchange of data, but says nothing about the disposition of that data (beyond the applicable laws of copyright). There is no obligation for a given server to even exist, let alone to serve data to me as I request it. The decision to serve data, made without the requirement that I provide credentials to prove that I am entitled to view it, is up to the owner of the server, and not me.

    I don’t have a lot of time for people who give things away with the idea of making money on it and then want to talk about ethics when I don’t end up being the hoped-for source of money. Your movie theater example is a bit more like someone streaming a new movie on the internet in a freely-accessible fashion, and then getting upset that some of the people who viewed it didn’t pay. Well, yes, we didn’t pay, you delivered those packets to my computer without asking me to pay, and I don’t recall entering into a contract agreement with any website.

    Material on the web is material offered for free. Copyright laws still apply, yes, but if you don’t want people to look at it without ensuring financial return for you, I recommend not putting it on a server in the first place.

  15. I guess for me, if I know someone depends on readers viewing ads on their site to make their living, I feel bad about reading their content for free and blocking the ads. I feel like they are offering me something that I value (their content) and expecting or at least hoping that I’ll reimburse them by downloading and wading through the ads. That said, I don’t feel guilty about reading full feeds in my RSS reader even though I know that I’m not viewing the ads on the original site.

    I realize this is an imperfect metaphor (and not my first imperfect metaphor), but I know that servers at restaurants live off of tips. When I eat out, I am not required to tip, it’s supposed to be a gratuity. But I always tip, even bad servers. I see the ads, which I hate, the same way. I may not go back to a restaurant with crappy service, but if I ate the meal and accepted the service, I leave a tip.

  16. If micropayments existed, there would be many websites I’d gladly pay $0.50 an article to read, etc.

    I also have made donations in the past and will do so again.

    But ads, I just can’t do. It jangles my brain just too much.

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