Shaping Your User's Experience

Hey Earthlink. I've got a product I'd like to sell you. It's called the "HTTP Blocker" and it will give your users the flexibility to use your service without encountering any of the annoyances of the web. Pop-ups, interstitials, rich media ads - It won't matter. My new product effectively caps off port 80, so that none of these things can get through and annoy your users. Then they'll be able to hang out on IRC, bitching to one another about how commercial interests have ruined the web for everyone.

Or would that be silly?

Such dismissal of both baby and bathwater is exactly what came to mind when I read this story about Earthlink's introduction of a rich media blocking tool that simply prevents Flash content from being displayed on a user's screen.

I'm all for consumer choice, especially as it relates to how people surf the web, but in my opinion, this move defies logic.



Macromedia Flash revolutionized content and applications on the web. While it's true that many ads are delivered in Flash, and that many rich media advertising technologies are based on Flash, it's also used in many other applications. We see it all over websites: Flash movie site intros, site navigational menus, interactive demos and more. Some websites are built entirely in Flash.

There's a reason for this. Macromedia has done a terrific job of making rich media manageable. Developers love their development tools and the functionality Flash can bring to the table. Advertisers love it for other reasons, especially for how it can deliver an interactive experience in such a small file size.

A rich media blocker is something of a neat idea, but one that functions simply by blocking Flash doesn't make much sense if one wants to preserve someone's web surfing experience. Considering all the Flash content out there, and that Earthlink users who opt to use the tool will see either GIF backups or "a blank space" in place of said content, how will users know what they're missing?

Earthlink's announcement of the rich media blocker follows the announcement of a spam blocker and a pop-up blocker. Enough with all the blockers! If Earthlink wants to protect its users from annoyances, why doesn't it just give them a copy of Lynx and be done with it? That way they won't have to pay software developers to work on blockers anymore and their users can happily surf a text-only web.

In closing, I'm going to repeat my recommendation to publishers that I made many moons ago. It's time to start shaping your user experience. You can't prevent web users from blocking advertising when they surf, but you can deny them access to your content if they refuse to accept the advertising along with it. Now that major ISPs are going out of their way to block advertising in the name of "serving" their users, maybe it's time to use sniffer scripts to find users who are getting a free ride and let them know that advertising underwrites content.

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