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[ NNSquad ] The Hard-Core Web Ad Haters Strike Back!

                 The Hard-Core Web Ad Haters Strike Back!


Greetings.  Yesterday, when I blogged "How to Sink a Major Web Site
with a Single Ad" ( http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/000642.html ) --
where I expressed my disdain for Web ads that start playing audio as
soon as a Web page is loaded -- I frankly expected to get a number of
agreeing comments.  (Examples of these offending ads are still running
right now over on ABC News ( http://www.abcnews.com ), on several of
the top story links.)

I was not disappointed.  The "auto-play audio" ads appear to be among
the most universally despised of Web ad formats.  Several people noted
that they consider a single appearance of such an ad on a site as
grounds for blacklisting the site entirely.  Others mentioned how such
ads cause additional difficulty in multiply-tabbed browsing
environments, and how they're an utter disaster for persons using
screen reading text-to-speech systems.

What I had not expected, however, were messages I received expressing
violent vitriol against Web advertisements of *all* kinds,
triggered by my comment that I am generally not a fan of ad-blocking
software (e.g. "Blocking Web Ads -- And Paying the Piper" -
http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/000281.html ).

An example of the intensity of such feelings among what I might term
the "hard-core Web ad haters" is this (used with permission of the

   "Well here you and I fundamentally disagree. I don't give a damn if
    the site goes broke.  I go out of my way to block ads, every one I
    can, I pay for the Internet, my computer, and my time costs money as
    well.  I do NOT give permission to spam me with ads, spyware or
    advertising in any way.  Ads are a scourge of the Internet, I don't
    want them, not a single one.  What appears on MY screen is MY decision
    and I will or will not give privilege to appear here."

Whew!  Next time maybe he won't hold back and will tell me what he
*really* thinks!

I received quite a pile of messages along similar lines.

Now, perhaps some of these folks -- who presumably represent a
significant number of Web users overall -- are ready to sign up for
Rupert Murdoch's proposed (and likely doomed) "insert coins here"
pay-wall plan.  They might even be willing to pay a nickel per Google

But the sense I get is that most of them don't want ads *and*
they don't want to pay for Web content.  I consider Web ads -- so long
as they don't cross the line into obnoxiousness -- to be a fair trade
for receiving Web content without content-associated charges.

I like free Web content.  I like it a lot.  I much prefer the mostly
ad-based Web to the "pay through the nose for all content" model that
originally seemed a far more likely outcome to many of us involved in
the early Internet and ARPANET.

So when I see Web users loudly condemning both pay and ad-supported
Web paradigms, I must admit to feeling a bit taken aback.

For after all, the Internet is not merely a philosophical concept.
It's a vast mass of people, disks, fans, cables, and power, plus a
wide spectrum of other assorted flotsam and jetsam of both technology
and society.

Most of this instrumentality and human energy have to be payed for
somehow!  Vast server farms don't come cheap to build, run, or manage.
Software has to be designed, written, and tested.  Even human
volunteers must eat!

As Web advertisers have tried ever harder to attract as many viewers
as possible and the highest product sales "conversion rates"
attainable, they have been gradually pushing outward the bounds of Web
ad types in common use.

My gut feeling is that the reaction of Web users to this gradual
escalation is not necessarily linear.  That is, at some point the
increasingly "in your face" (or "in your ear") ad models may reach an
inflection point, where significant numbers of users will rather
suddenly tend to rebel by refusing to visit sites displaying
particular sorts of ads.

How any given individual will react to any specific Web ad is
definitely not a trivial analysis.

"Auto-play audio" ads seem to be pretty much hated everywhere.
Pre-roll ads on selected video playbacks don't bother me much if
they're under around 15 seconds in length -- but longer than that and
I tend to frequently click away.

I have a significantly higher tolerance for creative ads than mundane
ones.  Ads that relate to topics that I'm interested in will hold my
attention better than most generic Web ads -- but if ads seem to know
*too much* about me the creepiness "push-back" factor takes over.
This suggests that "targeted" Web advertising is a double-edged sword
that must be very carefully modulated if maximum usefulness (to
sellers and potential buyers alike) is to be attained without
alienating viewers and triggering privacy-related concerns.

Ultimately, the Internet is a very big tent indeed, and every Web user
will have their own opinions of what is or is not an acceptable Web ad
to them -- and users will make this known every day through the sites
that they visit and the links that they choose to click.

But I do feel it important to keep emphasizing that the Internet is
not a free lunch.  One way or another, it has to be paid for -- the
infrastructure, content, people -- the whole enchilada.

Forgetting or ignoring this fact is potentially to imperil those very
aspects of the Internet that have become such important parts of our
daily lives.

Lauren Weinstein
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR
   - People For Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Co-Founder, NNSquad
   - Network Neutrality Squad - http://www.nnsquad.org
Founder, GCTIP - Global Coalition 
   for Transparent Internet Performance - http://www.gctip.org
Founder, PRIVACY Forum - http://www.vortex.com
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/laurenweinstein