Should Browsers Block Ads by Default?

By  |  Friday, August 7, 2009 at 9:43 am

T-Poll[UPDATE: There’s a great conversation spurred by this post going on over at Louis Gray’s FriendFeed.]

Windows IT Pro’s Orin Thomas has a piece up with the title In five years will block Internet advertisements by default. He isn’t quite that extreme in the story itself, but he does say that he thinks the popularity of the Firefox add-in Adblock Plus will inevitably lead to most users blocking ads.

Putting aside for the moment the question of what that would do to the Web economy (including, er, ad-subsidized sites like Technologizer), I don’t think Thomas’s scenario will happen in the sweeping form he describes. For one thing, ad blockers have been around for a long time, and if their inevitable domination of the Web is in progress, it’s happening really slowly. For another, every major purveyor of Web browsers except Opera is either a major advertiser or a major seller of ads, or both–even Mozilla makes millions from the Google ads its default home-page search displays. (I’d be very surprised but not utterly disbelieving if Google were to build ad-blocking into Chrome–but if it turns it on by default, I’ll eat my MacBook.)

Of course, as with everything on the Web, it’s ultimately consumers who call the shots–if enough folks use ad-blockers, the Web will have to adjust, one way or another. (I continue, incidentally, to have no problem whatsoever with the fact that a meaningful minority of Technologizer readers block ads–I don’t need everybody to see the ads as long as a critical mass of folks do.)

What say you?

 
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22 Comments For This Post

  1. cm Says:

    I can’t live without Ad Block plus on Firefox, and it is one of the reasons I do not use IE or Chrome. But in my circle of friends, coworkers (most very geeky) and family, not one uses an adblocker, and for nearly all, ads just don’t bother them.

    I have added Ad block to family instances of Firefox, and they simply didn’t notice there was a change.

    Not sure what that says about the ubiquity or even the effectiveness of web ads.

  2. P Smith Says:

    I hate advertising more than most, even going so far as legal revenge where possible:

    http://officeofstrategicinfluence.com/bulkmailer/

    I would rather see no advertising at all when online, but I accept the fact that ads are how companies and websites pay for bandwidth just as ads pay for TV shows.

    What I *don’t* accept and will not tolerate is advertising that is intrusive and forces me or other users and site visitors to address it. Such advertising is worse than a TV that only allows Mute to work during the show while forcing people to listen to ads.

    If the adwhores limited the ads to banners throughout the page, even if that included silent flash or animated GIFs, I could live with that. But when java and javascripts are used to make pop-up and pop-under ads, to place ads over the content of the page, to create unnecessary and – nearly always – loud sounds, or to make ANY click on a page result in a pop-up ad, it’s intolerable.

  3. Eyhk Says:

    I don’t mind ads, especially if they pay the bill for good content. HOWEVER, I hate Flash ads, ads that cover your screen, make you wait before showing you the content you clicked to see, etc. Usually the sites that use those ad tactics will never recieve my clicks again.

    I don’t think browsers should include ad blockers. I think they should include protection from over-obtrusive advertising like they did to block infinite popups.

    If you develop/use an add-on that does it, good for you. Nothing is for free and I don’t mind paying for good content through clicking some advertisements that I might be interested in. BensBargains.net is an awesome example. I click links I’m interested in and get good deals on products, they get revenue to continue showing good deals, and the companies that pay for the advertisements do more business. Win-win for everybody.

  4. Helen1976 Says:

    I can’t think of any browser company that would release such a thing. Aren’t all of them pretty heavily tied in with most of the ad giants out there? FireFox is very friendly with Google. Microsoft runs a whole ton of ads themselves. Who does that leave? Not Chrome. Maybe Opera? Too small a market-share to make any difference to anyone.

  5. Avram Says:

    I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen. Somehow, content providers have to pay the bills. I hate to sound curmudgeonly, but if ads go away then users are going to have to:

    A. Pony up and pay for content

    and

    B. A lot sites just won’t get the paid subscribers so they will go under.

    While it’s true that anyone can publish a Web site, not everyone is independently wealthy. If users want quality content on the Web, they should do everything possible to support online advertising.

    Frankly, I think that someone should sue Ad blocker and other software that changes the look of Web pages in this way. I know that’s a radical thing to say, but in effect they are allowing people to “steal” content.

  6. Rignerd Says:

    Ads need to be smarter and less obtrusive.

    On a site like this you should have ads based on the interests of the users attracted to the site for the content. That goes beyond just tech ads for the technologizer, where do tech people go for vacation and what do they wear and drink?

    Second, in the field of text I use my mouse pointer as a reading aid, yes I am getting old, and if your ad pops up and blocks my reading I don’t switch my attention to your ad, I turn my ire on your ad, and if it is intrusive enough I just turn away.

    On TV and radio there is a ratio of ad to content that we accept and there must be an acceptable ratio on the internet too. One thing that I think needs to come into the calculus on that ratio is the relative cost to deliver and the competition. For Rush Limbaugh there are 500+ stations that eep broadcast engineers on duty and they have towers and transmitters and licenses to maintain. For a blog you have a web server, webmaster and the star writer, much lower relative cost. So for the consumer to be burdened by an intrusive web 2.0 “feature” that may have no relevance to the content beyond a generic keyword match ends up being a very poor value for the advertiser and the content provider.

  7. Stephen Carpenter Says:

    Well… this is, fundamentally, the problem with advertising on the web in the long term: The content, and serving of it is controlled by the content creator, but the rendering is controlled by the client.

    The Web was never… let me emphasize that… NEVER designed to be a WYSIWIG editor/publisher. It was NEVER designed to give providers control.

    It was designed to allow providers to write content that users were then free to use in whatever manner they saw fit. Whether it be old school lynx and other text based browsers (yes, they still exist) or a meta-browser (anyone remember the one that just showed seemingly random snippits of sites in a collage?) or what have you.

    Its up to the end user if they want to display it in firefox, or firefox with some add-on that changes the page. They can even use something like greasemonkey to write their own scripts to override yours and completely change the page around before displaying it…. its up to them and how much work they want to put in.

    Whether this is bad for websites or not is like discussing whether the development of refridgeration was bad for Ice men. It was bad for ice men but… thats because the ice men’s business model was suddenly based on something that, became optional for people, and they opted to go for easier home made ice. Sorry Ice men.

    Likewise, web advertising is built on a house of cards. Its built, mainly, on the fact that most people don’t know how or care to install ad blockers. Thats a pretty flimsy position, and has been one for a long time.

    This is natural evolution. The ice men no longer exist, the ice stays in its lakes and ponds. We moved on.

    Um… sorry I guess. But… I don’t see much that can be done about it.

    -Steve

  8. Andres Says:

    Advertising is fundamental to so many sites. There’s a lot of content out there that doesn’t rely on selling something to people in order to pay for the costs to keep a site online.

    If people think it’s a terrible idea for News Corp. to start putting up a pay-wall on all their content, if browsers blocked ads automatically you can expect many other sites doing the same exact thing.

  9. Avram Says:

    The analogy about ice men doesn’t fly, because what you’re talking about is automatic technology displacing manual labor. What ad blockers do is that they take content which is ad supported and they remove the ads which are paying the person who writes the content.

    The idea of content itself, unlike ice making, is not outdated and hopefully never will be. I mean, yes, we could all live without reading blogs or magazines or newspapers or watching TV shows or listening to the radio. But if you want to consume content and you want to have that content created by professional writers, artists, etc, someone is going to have to pay their salaries. There are really only two models that work for making money off of content: subscription and ad-supported. Online you also have ecommerce revenue, but I’ll count that as ads too.

    Perhaps everything should go subscription, but then there will be far fewer media outlets as consumers will only pay for a handful.

    You could also argue that, with the democratizing influence of the Web — you can start a blog for free — that we don’t need professional content creators. However, time is money and, while there will always be people willing to create content for free the quality and quantity of amateur stuff varies greatly.

  10. DaveZatz Says:

    An interesting poll. I wonder if I’d keep blogging without the ad revenue.

  11. Greg Says:

    Doesn’t matter to me. I can sit through a live TV show and the ads don’t even register. I seldom notice ads on the web either.

  12. Mark Says:

    It COULD happen.
    In fact, it is more LIKELY to happen because of the way the web is going.

    Three main reasons :

    FIRSTLY….

    Last year, Adblock Plus got a sizeable boost in downloads. This didn’t happen by accident, nor was it the result of a snowball effect.

    It happened when Facebook got an unpopular redesign that took away many of it’s useful functions.

    Protest groups sprung up on the site, and quickly grew…the largest being just short of 3 million members at the peak. Just counting the English language groups, the combined membership was over 10 million.

    The groups had VERY active forums. One of the things that was widely posted was how to install Adblock Plus – as a way of getting back at Facebook (hit them where it hurts). The result being that a lot of people are now using Adblock who previously wouldn’t have bothered – and it takes more effort to uninstall it than to leave it there.

    As the web ‘matures’, for want of a better word, there will be a handful of websites (such as Facebook, maybe even Twitter) that have near universal membership. Enough (if still the minority of) people use it to have started this thread.

    Many – like myself – who hate ads with a passion will already have it installed, but, that is not most users. All it will take is one widely used website to do something to anger it’s membership (as Facebook did) in the future to push the use af Adblock to a tipping point/snowball effect.

    SECONDLY…

    The adverts themselves. Most people will tolerate ads as long as they are not too pervasive. Pop-ups, pop-unders and click-throughs have already been mentioned in the comments…and not forgetting the fact that some ads comtain spyware/malware.

    There is now also ‘targetted’ ads. Sme of these are overstepping the mark. For instance, a divorced (and single) friend of mine was served an ad for a ‘hot flirt & date site’. He is on various social networks – and dating sites!!! This ad had one major difference. Instead of a scantily clad model, the picture was of his 16 year old daughter, who had no knowledge that her picture was being used. As you could probobly imagine, it made them both feel uncomfortable.

    THIRDLY….

    White-sheet backgrounds, which most websites use, give me migranes. As a result of this, I have now got scripts for Stylish & Greasemonkey installed. I had to LEARN (teach myself) how to do it. It was quite an arduous task, I can tell you. BUT today’s kids learn HTML/CSS at school.

    The next generation will be much more tech-savvy. It will no longer be mainly the preserve of computer geeks. Many pages use cross-website scripting (for example, quantserve.com on this site). Add ons such as Adblock and Noscript will become more commonplace – especially as we are constantly told to be on our guard to keep our PC’s safe.

    This coupled with the fact (I am speaking from a UK perspective here) that there is every likelyhood of a right-wing Thatcherite Conservative goverment coming to power within the next 9 months (I really hope I’m wrong on this…).

    What has that got to with Adblock Plus? Simply put, it is much easier for protest groups (professional protesters as Hancock once put it – and, I am not nearly as old as that makes me sound) tend to find recruiting much easier under a Conservative government than a Labour one, especially if they have the word ‘socialist’ somewhere in their name.

    A Conservative government – will result in a sizeable influx of left/anti-corporate/anti-capitalist groups and causes. Something like Adblock will be seen one way of ‘getting back at THE MAN’. While many will grow out of the anti-corporate thing, again, something such as Adblock, once installed is rarely removed.

  13. Marc Says:

    Yes, they should block adverts! They are annoying and irrelevant. The demise of hobbiest sites made purly for the love of it is of great detriment to the web. I am willing to bet that the only people that click on adverts are the same folk that click on links in spam! I always thought Microsoft’s best move would be to block ads, but they seem intent on copying google and selling them too.

  14. Seumas Says:

    I’m tired of people who get angry over people blocking advertisements. Look, not everything has to be monetized. Can’t we just do something because we like it or want to offer a service to people? That’s how sysops operated for many years. I built and ran a very large auction site with close to 100,000 members for over a decade and kept it from being a commercial enterprise.

    I never charged a dime to use it nor plastered it with ads. It was enough for me to be responsible for building a service and site and community that others benefit from (in fact, many made both friendships and built businesses through my site over the years).

    I had offers — even commercial offers from existing corporations — to buy my site back in the day. Sure, I wasn’t being offered a billion dollars or even a million like many seemingly simple and stupid ideas we see today getting rich (twitter == sms, for example). But I could have made a couple hundred thousand on it.

    Did I? No. In fact, I paid for the entire site’s expenses (probably $50,000 in total, not including the value of the thousands of hours I spent dealing with the hardware and writing the software entirely from scratch). And never once did I think “this is all a great investment and I’m going to get rich for my effort!”.

    It really ticks me off that EVERY single idiot on the internet is just looking to make a buck, right down to every jack ass with a blog and an opinion. It’s almost like “if you’re not making money at it, it’s not worth doing”.

  15. Avram Says:

    @Seumas,

    You say:

    “It really ticks me off that EVERY single idiot on the internet is just looking to make a buck, right down to every jack ass with a blog and an opinion. It’s almost like “if you’re not making money at it, it’s not worth doing>”

    And certainly I agree that the Internet is not some gold mine people should rush to to make money. In fact, I think most people who run blogs like this one do it more for love than money. There are more lucrative jobs than running a blog or working in online publishing, believe me.

    If one wants to pursue one’s passion in life, one has to have time to do it. And if one can’t make a living from one’s passion, then one may have to spend the majority of one’s time doing something to support one’s family.

    Make no mistake, if journalists (aka bloggers) can’t make money from plying their trade, the quality of news reporting will suffer greatly, because as much as most of us do this for love, we also have families to feed.

  16. Marc Says:

    @Seumas Here Here! The internet needs more people like you.

  17. Arakun Says:

    I believe I might have started filtering ads as early as 1999 or 2000. Most people were on dial-up at the time and each ad could add seconds to the page loading time. Back then I blocked all ads since, as I saw it, I was wasting time and money downloading something that was just annoying me. I also turned of gif animation as well as some of the more annoying javascript functions (popups, resizing and moving windows) and html tags (blink and marqee).

    Nowadays I have a 100 Mbit connection so download speeds are not a problem. Of course since then ads have become more and more obtrusive and have found new ways of wasting my time. With how badly implemented Flash is on the Mac it doesn’t take many flash banners before my 2 x 2 GHz computer is slowed to a crawl.

    I’ve seen a few examples where popular sites have reached the tipping point when it comes to ads. At some point they decide to multiply the number of ads on the pages. People who didn’t really care before now get fed up and start ask their geek friends (like me) how to get rid of all the ads.

    However, there are pages that manage to do it right. On these sites the banners are small, don’t get in the way of the content and are for things I’m actually interested in. I’ve even clicked on some banners and bought the products marketed. It only works for sites targeted at narrow groups or if the pages is able to identify and has some kind of profile of the current user.

  18. RN Says:

    I hate ads. I live in Finland and 99% of ads are United States only.

  19. Aaron Says:

    I hate blocking ads. I really do. It’s what keeps most of the web free. I kept off of using AdBlock for a really really long time. However, now it has just gotten way too ridiculous for me to put up with. Flash and java based ads that are poorly coded, throwing up error messages and crashing my browser. Sound based ads… Jesus Christ those are the worst! Then there are the flash ads that pop up and stick to the screen, and you have to search for the little carefully hidden [x] to close it. There’s ads that extend themselves to fullscreen if your mouse accidentally hovers over them. And there are the ads that start up video. Many of these often screw up the layout of the webpage. I honestly long for the old days of pop ups.

    Just like intrusive DRM has increased piracy in games, the increasingly insane and intrusive ads will only increase the amount of people using AdBlock.

    So what do I do now to avoid freeloading? I try to donate a little to the sites I like and read often via paypal, if they have that option.

    I tell you, it’s so refreshing to have pages “just load” nice and quick, and have Firefox open for hours at a time without having to worry about it crashing.

  20. Jim Says:

    Well I own several websites, and the only revenue is advertising, with it I pay for the dedicated machines hosting, the bandwidth, and the several people that help me part time. One of the sites is there for the past 14 years! My estimates after looking at logs and ad numbers are that 40% of visitors are blocking ads. The money is less and less every month, I have to use less and less people, the services are being degraded as a result. This is going on for several years now and I have no idea about what the future holds, I assume other sites are having the same problems, I see some sites that were larger than mine have closed down, some new ones are doing well using other methods that I do not approve.
    I think the internet will become what its users want it to become in the end. If a site can’t put ads, it will put a ticket booth in the front page, and then… get your credit cards ready if you want to view content that’s worth anything. Maybe it will be better that way.

  21. Arthur Says:

    There’s a very, very good reason for me not to let ads block my view: eeePC.
    These work-only oriented machines that don’t have much in the ways of horsepower are really slow if I’m to allow any flash-banners. It’s ridiculous: I enter a site and the machine slows down or stops for a brief moment only to find out it has wasted capacity on some annoying bouncing flash-bunny advertising something utterly and hopelessly meaningless. On another notion I try to watch video in the browser, but the video stutters and clips in the rythm of the nearby flash advertisment. The machine is great for web browsing, but only for as long as I use ad-blocking and that’s it.

  22. Mason Says:

    I think I’m like most people. I have no issues with banners and contextual ads throughout the page; I’ve even clicked through and purchased items if the ad piqued my interest.

    What I hate, and what everyone hates, is pop-ups, redirects, loud announcements about “My New XBOX 360!” and the like. I keep my ad blocking off unless I feel a site is attacking me with crap that prevents me from going about my business.

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