A Web without ads

Ad blockers won't destroy the Web, but they might bring us back to the Web we intended to build in the first place.


You might have noticed a small dustup around ad blockers over the last few days. Someone on Twitter asked how this came out of nowhere in three days. Well, it didn’t. It’s been building. Apple kicked it into overdrive by adding ad blocking capability to iOS, but there’s nothing really new.

I recently started using an ad blocker: just Adblock Plus, and just on Chrome. While I’m an ad-hostile person, I’m not aggressively ad-hostile. For the most part, I’m content to ignore advertising. But some site (I don’t remember which) just went too far, probably with mouseover popups that obscured what I wanted to read, and I said “I’ve had it.” You can waste my bandwidth, but don’t prevent me from reading articles.

So, with that in mind, here are a few observations.

If you’re in the ad business, don’t make the experience worse for the readers. Seriously: you ought to realize that if you’ve just annoyed someone, they’re not likely to click on your ad, let alone buy your product. Doc Searls (@dsearls) wrote absolutely the smartest thing I’ve seen on this controversy: “If marketing listened to markets, they’d hear what ad blocking is telling them.” And if people are telling you, “we don’t want you, go away,” you’d best figure out why, rather than whining about it. (Searls’ entire series on advertising is excellent, and you should read it. The last post, Debugging adtech assumptions, lists all the prior posts).

If you’re advertising a product, please realize that the goal of advertising is to sell your product. And to that end: making potential customers mad, forcing them to use an ad blocker to regain control of their experience isn’t helping your cause. Really. If you think you’re doing “brand advertising,” you don’t want the value I associate with your brand to be “assholes.” Doc Searls has some excellent points about brand advertising. Go read them.

People who install ad blockers aren’t likely to click on ads, except by accident. They aren’t people who are likely to buy. Every sales team I’ve worked with has understood the difference between low-value and high-value prospects. Those of us with ad blockers are very low-value prospects. You don’t want our eyeballs. We’re not going to buy anyway. If you’re in the ad placement business, please don’t think it’s my job to make your business model work. It isn’t. Here’s a business idea (Google take note): Charge more for clicks by “high value” prospects, which you can define (at least in part) as readers who don’t have any ad blockers installed.

Finally, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing about ad blockers destroying the Web — if there aren’t ads, nobody will provide any content. Nonsense. Albert Wenger writes that ad blockers are a way to decentralize a network that has become overly centralized. In a similar vein, Eric Meyer writes that ad blockers are an opportunity for the Web to reboot. Except that we’re wiser now, and we know what doesn’t work. I’ve been on the Web since being on the Web meant telnetting to www.cern.ch. I’ve used lynx when that was the only browser available. The Web was an interesting, fun, vital, exciting place then. People didn’t need advertising money to maintain a blog, or share ideas. If the advertising business disappeared today, then we might get our interesting, fun, vital, exciting Web back, but without the bloated pages. If anything, advertising has allowed a host of “content” sites to exist that have no reason to exist other than to supply ads. Content that exists only as a conduit for advertising isn’t content. Ad blockers might not destroy the Web, but they might bring us back to the Web we want, the Web we intended to build in the first place.

Cropped image on article and category pages via Pawel Wozniak on Wikimedia Commons.

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  • The problem is simple – my ad blocker reports blocking between 500,000 and a million ads a year. A million ads is not advertising, it is clutter. A single day’s worth of posts in my RSS read can block 1,500 – 2,500 ads. Eliminate 99% of these useless ads and raise the price for what is left 100x.

  • Ilya Geller

    Don’t search on Internet if you want to have privacy!
    For instance, Google wants to know what a searcher had for dinner yesterday because this information helps Google to find that chicken breast is preferred; and Google sells the searchers’ QUERY and preferences in meat to advertisers: Google exploits that people search on Internet using QUERIES.
    Does not matter what you would try, keeping your privacy secure – you stay alone against (criminal) organizations that violate and make money selling your privacy.
    However, Internet can exist without searching, without QUERIES: an advertiser of chicken meat puts his structured advertisement on Internet and the ad searches for people by itself, based on people’s profiles of structured data, which the profiles belong to people, are their property, in their computers and contain information on their preferences in meat. (Read on my name, ‘Ilya Geller’, about my discovery how to structure data.) The use of structured data guarantees 105% privacy! People passively receive information, they don’t search, don’t use QUERIES.
    So, I solved the problem of Internet privacy.

  • Taylor O

    What about those high-value prospects, highly likely to buy when targeted correctly to something that would fit their needs but driven to use an ad blocker because of inundation with noise? Often reading articles can be painful without an ad blocker or reading plug-in due to overwhelmingly annoying ads – thus throwing away the valuable advertising by watering it down with low value inventory. Reduce the inventory and increase the value?

  • svfoxhotmail

    They also slam 100 cookies in my websites…..Its the ad networks and the advertisers who are stupid. They have done this to us publishers. But sites will soon block ad blockers.


  • stbpntuo

    People can pay for content in any number of ways. But I think the “original” idea of the web is a bit naive. Writers, photographers and artists need to eat. Sure, at the beginning a bunch of guys with tenure put stuff on the web for free, but that’s just not sustainable.

    The people need to decide whether they’re going to pay for content with pay walls or by watching ads. But they can’t have it for free. The creators need to eat.