Like any self-respecting web user, I’ve used ad-blocking extensions for years now - since at least 2006. There are some sites so peppered with ads that browsing them without an ad-blocker just isn’t viable (I’m thinking in particular of some F1 sites I like to check frequently). Some sites are so bad that if it came to a choice between visiting them without an ad-blocker, or not visiting at all, I’d pick the latter, frankly.
Intrusive web adverts are annoying. There’s no getting around that. Equally, though, I’m not so away-with-the-fairies that I don’t recognise that a lot of this nice stuff we’re used to accessing freely on the net has to be paid for by someone, somewhere. Ads are the obvious way of doing that, but the dynamics of this model have changed hugely over the years and are becoming, by degrees, harder to sustain. (So I hear anyway.)
The use of paywalls is becoming worryingly commonplace – both across web content in general and streaming media in particular – and this approach flies directly in the face of some of the key founding principles of the web. And in this increasingly confused and scary world we live in, I think the need for the web to respect the principle of giving information freedom is more important than ever.
In the last couple of years, an increasing number of websites feature code to check whether visitors have ad-blockers installed. Where an ad-blocker is detected, the visitor sees a message of thinly veiled emotional blackmail or, increasingly, out-and-out pleading, asking the visitor to disable their ad-blocking functionality or to whitelist the relevant website. Some sites even prevent you from reading the article until you do one of these two things.
Most news agencies have used this tactic for some time, but other types of sites are now following suit. Even the ten-a-penny technology sites which regurgitate already regurgitated non-news, FUD and trite observations are doing it. I know. You wouldn’t think they’d have the nerve to try to guilt-trip visitors into viewing ads.
Almost invariably, I ignore all pleas of whitelisting. The one exception I made was for the Guardian’s website. Hey, I have to get my do-gooding, left-wing libertarian kicks somehow.
The bottom line is that web ads need to be more palatable and less intrusive. If there weren’t so many of them and if they weren’t so damned distracting and annoying, visitors would be less inclined to block ads in the first place. It’s a bit like the situation a decade ago when copyright holders were rightly lampooned for over-charging for their content, not doing enough to make it easily-accessible to customers in innovative ways, while struggling to understand why many users were choosing to download content unlawfully using peer-to-peer file sharing software. Thankfully, we’ve seen a lot of progress on that front (think: Spotify, Netflix and Amazon Prime, for example).
Back to web ads. The ones which get most on my thrupnies adopt the shock ‘n’ awe approach in which banner ads abseil down from the top of the screen, bumping the page content asunder in unnerving jolts, with the lower page content then being flanked by further ads. As these then load, the page content re-renders again so your eyes are bouncing around the page trying to catch up and you’re quickly reduced to a quivering nervous wreck. It’s a bit like expecting web users to browse the web high on crystal meth. It’s unacceptable and it’s disrespectful to the site’s visitors. And it’s no wonder use of ad-blockers has skyrocketed in recent years.
So, please, ad-makers and sites which feature them: try and be a bit more subtle and less annoying. Else the chances are your ads being unblocked are pretty much nil. And if that happens, we’ll all end up losing in the longer term.