Last month, some idiot decided that commercial websites should block the Firefox web browser because some Firefox users (read: 87% of Digg users) utilize the Adblock extension to block advertisements from being displayed. The arguements continue. Though most people (most sane people, anyway) agree that it’s immoral to block a web browser entirely, the debate about Adblock continues.
First of all, why do websites run ads? To make money. I, and most other people, don’t have any problem with this. We’re used to it. You have ads in magazines, commercials on TV, billboards on highways. I place ads on my websites as well.
Why do people block ads? Because some websites cross the line between making some money, and going crazy. I can tolerate some AdSense blocks, and other unintrusive ads. However, most commercial websites are so ad-heavy you want to scream. They don’t just load their pages with banners, but they employ such annoying ads that there’s no doubt why AdBlock came into existence. Here are some examples:
- Noisy Ads. Banner ads shouldn’t talk, buzz, or otherwise utilize your sound card. If I’m reading articles online, I don’t want my speakers to suddenly come to life, screaming “You’ve just won a free iPod! Click here to claim your prize.”
- Moving/Expanding Ads. Okay, vibrating and blinking banners aren’t good. Neither are ads that aren’t contained to their original box. George W. Bush shouldn’t dance across my monitor, and I banners shouldn’t double in size when I accidentally mouse over them.
- “Brick Wall” Ads. These irritating things are shown between page loads. Visit GameSpot or PC World and see this for yourself. You see a big full-page ad, with a bar along the top that says “Click here to continue to [Site Name].”
- Pre-Roll Video Ads. If I want to spend my valuable time viewing a video, I don’t want some lunatic ad to play for 30 seconds before I can watch it.
- Pop-Ups. Yeah, what a great idea. Opening a new browser window on us isn’t going to get us to visit your sponsor. More likely we’ll just leave.
- Kontera Keyword Ads. You’ve seen those double-underlined links, right? When you mouse over them you’re greeted with a stupid box that pops-up in your face.
This is by no means a definitive list. Really, you have to wonder. Do the people who run these sites actually visit them? I’m guessing they don’t. A lot of these commercial sites are run by actual companies, and the owners probably aren’t involved in day-to-day operations that much.
I’m a webmaster, and I’m a serious web user. I spend a lot of time online, and see vast quantities of ads each day. You see, spending so much time online myself, I know what annoys me. When I place ads on my websites, I do it in ways that wouldn’t annoy me. Notice this site? No pop-ups, no “Brick Wall” ads, just some AdSense mainly. Obviously I’m not making as much money as I would if I did otherwise, but I don’t care.
The web is an information/communications network that, first and foremost, is about the sharing of information. People forget that in the early days of the internet, there was a ban on commercial traffic. Of course, that was a kind of over-restrictive, and it was eventually lifted. I like making some money off of my content, but it’s a rather stupid business model to make all of your money off ads. I think the best way is to take Ars Technica’s approach. They’re ads are at a minimum, they’re content is free, and they’re still making good money. The web isn’t print media, so stop monetizing it like a magazine. Sorry, web users just won’t put-up with digital equivalents of magazine ads.
Web sites are a new medium, and therefore require different advertising approaches. The Pay-Per-Click scheme was pretty good when it launched, though it’s effectiveness has been waning. It’s now up to the ad networks to innovate new approaches to online advertising. It’s happening, though not as fast as we’d like.
A common argument about AdBlock is that its users are “stealing.” By reading content, and not enjoying the site’s ads, the users are taking the content without paying in ad impressions. I think it’s time for a metaphor. If you’re a TV network, you’re likely making your money off commercials shown throughout your programs. Of course, most people leave the room when the ads come on. They make sandwiches, they go consult IMDB to see what else an actor has been in, and they grab a Pepsi. Unsurprisingly, the companies purchasing ads are less willing to fork over the cash required to run a TV commercial. Is it stealing to watch a TV show, but not the commercials? “No, duh” is the answer here. So why is it “stealing” to read a web page, but not view the ads?
Ad blocking is a result of intrusive advertisements invading the internet, and I believe web users have every right to block ads if they chose. Personally, I don’t blanket-block ads like a lot of people. I just zap the worst of them. If people weren’t blanket-blocking ads, I could have double the ad revenue I have currently. Sure, I wouldn’t mind having some extra cash (I really wouldn’t mind), but I’m not complaining. I think web users have every right to block online ads.
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