By Brian Boyko
Editor, Network Performance Daily
It seems that everyone is up in arms over Adblock, a FireFox plugin that enables users to block any ad with a right click or the downloading of a filter file that lists the most common advertisers. This has put fear into the hearts of Web content providers who make their living from advertising, with some calling it the “Nuclear Plug-in” – an “evil predator” that is “quietly eyeing all the businesses it would happily devour.” – a plugin that is, even in the New York Times, regarded as an “extreme menace to the online-advertising business model.”
One Web designer was so adamant about the Adblock plugin – he said that when you read the content without viewing the ads, you’re “stealing” – that he blocked Firefox browsers entirely from his Web sites.
Criminy! Get some perspective.
First, from an enterprise network performance standpoint, there’s absolutely no downside to not just encouraging Adblock in the name of both bandwidth conservation and network security – but to actually make it mandatory. The most annoying ads – flash banners, pop-ups, etc. are the ones that usually take up the most bandwidth and are more likely to have nasty malware payloads which cause more bandwidth and network security problems.
Relying on end-user action to prevent network performance problems can be futile, but encouraging users to use less bandwidth by doing something that they’d probably like anyway will do nothing but help.
So where does that leave people who earn a living, in part, from online advertising? Whatever the case, the Mozilla Foundation and Adblock does not “owe” advertisers a living. They didn’t steal from advertisers any more than companies that make bank vault locks “steal” from bank robbers, or, more aptly, people who make earplugs steal from car-alarm manufacturers.
It is true that Adblock blocks ads – and therefore, revenue. It is also true that it’s a piece of software that runs on the client’s computer – and the only person that should decide what software runs on the computer should be the owner of the computer.
It is also true that, while Adblock’s installed subscriber base is small, it is also only going to grow. For most end-users, there is no downside to Adblock, it is free, it is useful, and therefore, very few people are going to remove Adblock from their computers once they have installed it. And people won’t stop using Adblock out of goodwill – goodwill has been squandered by the advertising companies. From quarter to quarter, the number of people installing Adblock will only get larger.
But if you are in an ad-supported content providing business, you need to learn a little bit of economic Darwinism: “Capitalism makes no guarantees whether your business model will succeed from one day to the next. Adapt or die.”
My income did, and to a smaller extent, still relies on internet advertising. My work for HardOCP.com was advertiser supported. My work for GeeksAreSexy.net is also advertiser supported.
But Adblock, and its counterpart, Filterset.G, did not come from a vacuum. They responded to demand and solved a problem. So, if you’re looking at this from anything other than the narrow, rare, and absolutely wrong view that the ad peddler somehow “deserves” to have his product sold, and the content provider “deserves” to have advertising pay for his work, Adblock is an absolute blessing.
Advertisements on the Web have been annoying and intrusive since the beginning – from 10KB banner ads in the days of 14.4kbps modems, the more intrusive pop-up and pop-under ads when 56.6kbps modems came along. Then there came Flash ads that covered up the information we wanted to read, while we were reading it, fake Windows dialog boxes, adware programs, and now even embedded flash video in banner ads. Every time we got more bandwidth to compensate for the delays caused, in part, by advertising, advertisers took more bandwidth.
The lone exception – and unfortunately, innocent victim – in this was Google, who pioneered a low-bandwidth, highly-relevant way to do online advertising that went against everything other advertising companies had done. They provided more value, rather than less, they stayed out of the way, rather than obstructed. There is a reason that Google is the #1 online advertiser in the world, and it has everything to do with common courtesy and decency.
But by that time, the damage was already done, and so, as it is technically feasible to block advertisements, people will do so. Online advertisements are annoying, intrusive, distracting, and rude – and by design, at that. So it’s very hard to have sympathy for an industry which has done nothing but reap the whirlwind it has sewn.
There are a couple of models which do work. Salon.com requires either a subscription or the viewing of an online ad, to access the articles in the online magazine. Some web pages make the content and advertising inseparable by putting the content in PDFs or other online document format. But the most effective techniques, it seems, are to deal directly with the content provider to put ads on the site – as the major advertising companies have been blocked by ad-blocked.
Indeed, perhaps one of the reasons behind Google’s $1B acquisition of YouTube was not because contextual ads in videos are more effective, but because those contextual ads are less likely to be blocked. If Adblock becomes ubiquitous, they may form the bulk of Google’s revenue. Google is adapting.
In all probability, none of these solutions will be as lucrative as the current business model, but the current business model of annoying the person you want to buy your product is failing.
Tough. Adapt or die.