Monday, October 5, 2015

How AdBlock Could Break the Internet

Will AdBlock Break the Internet?

Will AdBlock Break the Internet?

A few days ago, Apple announced that its new iPhone will support AdBlock software.  Apple is always making innovative upgrades to iPhones, so something as simple as supporting AdBlock may not sound like such a big deal.  But this could break the Internet.

If you are not familiar with AdBlock, it is software you can install so that ads do not appear when you look at websites.  I first saw AdBlock in action a few years ago when I tried to look at one of my websites on my wife's computer.  None of the ads on my page were displayed and I thought my ads were broken. I mentioned this to my wife and she explained that she runs AdBlock software on her Mac desktop.

Even back then, I realized it would be a big problem if too many people started using AdBlock.

"What's the problem?" you say.  There is all this free stuff on the Internet that you want to look at, but the ads are annoying.  Why not just block the ads and make it easier to surf the net?  The reason that all kinds of free stuff is available to read on the Internet is that the people publishing it can make money from the ads.  If there is no money to be made, people will stop putting free content on the Internet.  This includes bloggers like me on up through sites like the New York Times.

Apple's announcement raises the level of concern since this brings AdBlock to the mobile phone platform, which is a growth area for Internet advertising.  Also, featuring AdBlock as an innovative feature will encourage more users on desktop and mobile android platforms to adopt AdBlock.

As someone who likes to get free stuff, I am concerned.  If Internet ads dry up, there will be less free stuff that I can access as publishers like bloggers and news sites reduce the amount of free material they publish.

Perhaps some of the best content from the large publishers will move behind a pay wall.  But I won't pay.  As I have cut back my budget, I stopped getting a newspaper and also stopped getting cable TV.  Free stuff on the Internet is a major source of news and entertainment for me, and I don't want to see the quality content and variety go away.

Of course, I am also a publisher of free content on the Internet and revenue from ads provides a motivation to keep publishing new material.

What Could Be More Annoying Than Ads?

It will be interesting to see how this will unfold.  I agree that some Internet ads are pretty annoying, especially the pop-over ads and video ads, but alternate ways to pay for Internet content seem even more annoying.
  • Imagine having to subscribe and log in to each your favorite sites, not to mention paying a monthly subscription.  
  • Imagine having to type in your credit card number and pay a small amount, even 10 cents, to read articles you find as you surf the Internet.  
  • Imagine having to launch a separate app to view each of your favorite sites.  Using custom apps from each publisher is a way to get around AdBlock that works on browsers.
  • Imagine if the distinction between content and ads is blurred- think product placement.  News articles may have product promotions integrated into the story to get by AdBlock.
I am still optimistic that AdBlock proliferation could end favorably- there is a lot of money in play, and technology can change quickly.  One of the most promising scenarios is that only the most obnoxious ads will get blocked and the good ads- like mine- can get through, and people can enjoy free content on the Internet.

This seems better than the alternative where all ads get blocked, and a different way for readers to pay for content must be established.

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  1. There's a big difference between supporting a piece of software and forcing everyone to use it. Apple is doing the former, and most users won't know enough or care enough to install and enable it.

    Even if ad revenue wanes, though, something else will come along to fix the problem. That's the nature of the internet, and the world in general; things people like flourish and things people don't like are trimmed away. After all, you did cancel your newspaper subscription. Most likely because something came along that was better. Perhaps ads will go the same way as newspapers.

    1. Bryan, great comment- thanks! I think Apple will make installing AdBlock easy, and I think the fact that Apple is promoting it as a feature will make it become more popular on all platforms. Sometimes change is good, and sometimes not. I think people would like to see ads trimmed away, but not the great diversity of free, high-quality content you can find on the Internet. Maybe there is a better way to support content development than ads. If ads go away, we're about to find out...


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