Thoughts on Ad-Blockers

The release of iOS9 yesterday brings with it many things, but it’s the support for content blockers in Safari which has the Internet foaming at it’s collective mouth. That’s because those content blocker features are being used to create ad blockers, stripping away the very thing that’s paying for all the journalists, designers and developers who work for the sites you visit.

And it’s awesome.

And therein lies the problem for publishers everywhere, nobody at those sites is going to deny that’s not a significantly improved experience for users. Removing all those flashing banners, massive image downloads, poorly written Javascript and full site overlays results in a faster browsing experience with a reduction in data consumption of anything from 50-80% on some of the biggest sites on the web. That means that not only is ad-blocking making your browsing quicker, it’s also potentially saving you money in data charges.

There are those with a cynical view that this is a ploy by Apple to stop Google by attacking their business model, since they make their money through advertising and Apple make theirs by selling devices. That seems like a stretch, because it can’t be denied that supporting this kind of thing is good for it’s users, and that’s often the stick by which Apple likes to be measured. It’s also a stretch because on the desktop, every browser supports extensions like ad-blocking, and they can be found within Google’s own Chrome Extension store. So these aren’t a new thing, they’re just a new thing to the largest mobile browser.

In all honesty, I doubt that the number of people that will install an ad-blocker is going to be a particularly high percentage of the people who have an iOS device, and therefore the actual damage is going to be limited. But what it will hopefully do nonetheless is making the publishers take a look at what they’ve been shoving down the throats of users for the past few years, and realise that it’s only come to this because the experience is so poor. If 80% of the data that you’re transferring to one of your visitors is superfluous to the actual content the visitor came to see, then you have a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Your visitors are actually spending more money just to see your poorly constructed HTML palace.

Adapt or die is a phrase often thrown around by journalists when writing about the music industry or the movie industry, whenever one of them is trying to fight back against the march of technology, especially technology which brings users more choice and erodes at the control these behemoths have always had. Now that shoe is on the other foot, and it’s the publishers who are going to have to adapt or die. And if a bunch of them do disappear, apart from those that may find themselves out of work, is that going to be so bad for the consumer? We live in a world of massive Internet over-abundance. There are a million gaming blogs, technology blogs and general news sites, all writing about the same events, the same press releases, posting the same manufacturer supplied footage. Few will mourn the passing of these sites if they start disappearing. The ones that are left will find themselves with higher visitor numbers and a more unique proposition, something which they can sell directly and perhaps not rely on advertising. People always say that nobody is willing to pay for anything online, but that’s because there’s so many free alternatives, why would you. That trend could reverse in a hurry if the long tail of sites disappears.

Or perhaps somebody could just invent a form advertising that doesn’t cost my time, money and patience every time I see it. Stop showing me the same ad over and over again. Stop showing me ads for things I have absolutely no interest in (want to buy a car in a country you don’t live in? how about a pair of shoes that are the same as the ones you bought two months ago because the tracking cookies don’t know you purchased?). Good advertising should be like getting a recommendation from a friend. But most online advertising is from a stack em high, sell em cheap model. It’s mud against a million walls. As soon as I think the ads on a site might actually benefit me, allowing it to show me ads is only a button tap away.

And ultimately, maybe thats where we need to end up. I give you permission to show me your recommendations, because I know they’re not going to suck, and you will have curated them well for me and my tastes.

Or who knows, maybe the dead tree business will flourish again, when everybody returns to buying newspapers when they can no longer get anything online for free.