On advertising and websites

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I read an article recently by Martin Bryant where he railed against adblocking technology in general and forthcoming adblocking services provided by mobile networks in particular, sensationally entitled 'Adblockers are immoral'. In it, the author explains why he thinks adblocking is a problem and what he thinks of people who use the technology.

Unfortunately, while his position is perfectly valid, his argument wasn't. Let's see if we can be a bit more balanced.

Full disclosure: I run an adblocker on my browser. I'll go into the reasons for that in a moment.

Back to Martin. He begins:

"I feel resentful of people who enjoy my work but proudly run an ablocker to starve my content of revenue"

Martin is immediately trying to convince his audience that adblockers are evil, but I already disagree with him. I don't block ads in order to deliberately starve website owners of revenue. I don't sit at my computer, cackling with glee as I constantly hit refresh, knowing each time that I've managed to deprive someone of another fraction of a dollar. I block ads for different and far simpler reasons. Also, assuming that all users of adblockers are somehow evil is a really good way to alienate the people you're trying to convince right from the get-go.

Next, Martin really wades in.

"[the web without an adblocker] was perfectly fine, you're just being a snob. The Web works well for me with the ads displayed"

I'm sure the web works fine for Martin with the ads displayed. Presumably he has a really powerful PC and a super-fast, reliable internet connection, and never looks at any website on his phone. I'm sure that's not the case for everyone else, because that's not the case for me. I think it's time to go into the first reason why I run an adblocker - speed.

Adverts slow the web

I've tried. I really have. I've browsed the web without an adblocker, and I've browsed it with one. If the difference wasn't noticeable, it wouldn't be a problem. Unfortunately, it is noticeable. Ads can eat bandwidth and slow page rendering time. Worse, they can actually get in the way of the content I'm trying to read. Give me a simple option to make all that go away and I'm going to take it - as are a lot of people. Avoiding ads isn't about screwing over hard working content providers, it's about getting at that content without having to wait unnecessarily.

It's also worth comparing this with other forms of ad-supported content. Admittedly, the internet is a medium where content viewing statistics can be closely compared with ad success rates, but do other providers of content whine about this problem? Am I not allowed to mute the TV during the ad break? What if I want to concentrate on my driving instead of reading the billboards alongside the road? Here's the second reason I block ads - annoyance.

Adverts are annoying

Advertisers try everything to get your attention. Classy, subtle ads that tease at a particular idea; blunt, crass adverts that shout for attention - and everything in between. For me, the common thread throughout all of them is exaggeration. I find that annoying. I don't believe most of the claims adverts make. I resent the implication that my life isn't as good as it could be because I don't have a particular product. I disagree with the assertion that product consumption equals happiness. To me, watching or reading most adverts is like voluntarily spending time with someone whose worldview is entirely different from mine, a worldview that I find deeply annoying. Also that person shouts a lot and doesn't care what I think. I don't like that person.

On a related note, Martin's website is trying something new with ads in an attempt to convince people and for that I applaud him. Unfortunately, the new ads are terrible. The page content floats out of the way so a full page ad can be seen, reappearing when the mouse is moved over the edge, but it's all too easy to move the mouse wrong and suddenly the ad is back. It's also kind of slow. Good idea, bad implementation. I'm going to another website.

Adverts are not always things I want to see

Let's look at one more reason why I block ads, particularly on the internet. It's the classic association between products and sex, or the tendency for internet ad creators in particular to simply slap the name of the product over a picture of a scantily dressed woman. I've no doubt this results in a high success rate for ads, I just simply don't want that in my browser. I also don't want it in my children's browser.

(also, am I the only person who thinks that the armour worn by female characters in ads for games wouldn't protect them in the slightest? I find such ads more ridiculous than titillating)

Losing revenue because of adblockers is a perfectly understandable concern for owners of websites. A while back I remember reading an impassioned plea by the owner of Destructoid who was seeing his profits increasingly slide because of adblockers. He didn't say whether this loss was forcing him to sell blood in order to buy food or just that he'd had to downgrade his brand new Porsche to a second hand one, but the tone he used in his article was even and balanced, so I switched my adblocker off for his site. The lesson? If you want something, ask nicely.

Adverts can be better

I'd continue to go through the rest of Martin's article and try to address some more of his points but by now he's simply ranting so let's recap instead. I block ads because they slow down my browsing experience, annoy me, and often have content that I don't want to see. I'm not personally attacking content owners and I've never seen any website I visit regularly die because of adblocking. And yes, I have given up on websites because the adverts were too intrusive, or interfered with the page I was trying to read.

If we could trust the advertising industry to not constantly try to grab our attention with increasingly eye catching ads that eat our bandwidth and jump up in our faces but instead settle for subtle, simple ads then I think the "problem" of adblockers would start to minimise itself. Unfortunately, grabbing our attention is what the advertising industry is all about, so I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon.

Having said that, there are plenty of ads out there that aren't annoying. How about Google's text only ads? How about we ban animated ads, or auto-playing video ads? Or ads that popup 5 seconds into reading an article? Ads that obscure the page on load, or ads that appear with a 'click to continue to the page you wanted' message? How about we ban ads that deliberately try to deceive us by looking like Windows popups or use other deceitful practices?

Maybe website owners should consider these things before selling ad space. If they want to convince me (and thousands like me) to not run an adblocker, fix the advertising first. Adblocking isn't an attack against content producers, it's a response to the ads themselves.

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