I had said, once, herein, that consumers who installed ad blockers were reneging on a social contract. But I reneged.
If you knew my pain, you might forgive me. Here’s what happened.
I am a subscriber to Photo Bucket. This is a nice service for storing photographs. I like it because it will store high-resolution images. A friend had asked me to take pictures at his wedding.
When I got to the site, Ghostery went berserk. There were dozens of ad tags on the page. Worse, there was a two-second delay just rendering a keystroke. My browser choked. My Mac Pro waved a white flag. Unacceptable.
So, on a hunch, I installed a popular ad blocker, let the settings default, and tried again.
Instantly, the site was back to normal. Ad blocking cured Photo Bucket. Note these facts exonerate Photo Bucket somewhat. It was obviously ad tags, not the company’s own code that caused the problem. It could fix that by more carefully vetting its advertising partners.
I then went on a site comparison binge, for several pages, at several sites, all belonging to large publishers, I loaded a page with the ad blocker off, and then on. In these new cases, the difference between blocked and unblocked pages was almost undetectable. The testing continued.
Surprisingly, in many mainstream sites, many ads appeared despite the ad blocker. Clearly, these were ads that were loaded by the publisher without the usual ad calls. In any case, I saw plenty of ads with the ad blocker turned on. It’s not like ad blockers are the end of advertising.
But we’ve created a sort of Frankenstein.
Ad blockers rely on ecosystem standards (like ad-server names) to determine if the content being loaded into a page is an ad. It’s an open-and-shut case that the standards that enable the ecosystem are the same standards that enable ad blocking.
Over about four days of surfing around in the normal course of my life, checking out several hundred sites, the ad blocker blocked about 400 ads, or one ad per page on average, and 100 per day on average. Still, things were highly skewed, with most ads on some sites blocked, no ads on others.
Bulletproof media vest?
What does this amount to really?
According to the usual bombastic claims, I am exposed to about 5,000 ad impressions per day from all media. Ad blocking stopped 100 of them for me in a busy day of surfing. So, for all my trouble, I stopped only 2% of the ads aimed at me. It’s a bulletproof vest that stops 2% of bullets, a new low in pointlessness.
So online ad blocking is like taking vitamin C for a cold, or using hand sanitizer. Might help.
Busting bad actors
To the extent that bad experiences trigger installs of ad blockers, preventing those might help.
One approach might be to let a (friendly) bot decide where the problems are, and give the consumer an option or warning. Maybe that’s just a clutter buster: only block ads on pages that suck.
Inasmuch as people vote with their feet, you might say the invisible hand will fix it. People won’t go to places where it hurts.
It’s unlikely that anyone will remember where not to go. But a plugin could remember. If an ad blocker that discriminated against substandard pages was free and easy to install, it might have a net positive impact on quality publishers. So, a free clutter buster: Who you gonna call?
Here, again, we have a case where freedom isn’t free. We have built a society of computers. They are free to interact with each other according to protocols. There are bad actors, along with well-intentioned actors that trip over unanticipated circumstances.
Either way, civilization has evolved to protect innocents from the indignities caused by the carelessness of others. I don’t see anything wrong with punishing a rude page by blacklisting it. Certainly, something like this would incentivize publishers to mind their manners.