The war rages on, and like in any war, nobody wins — but also like any war, even if the tyrants prevail, it is still a matter of time before they fall... and fall hard.
Hi, my name is Phelonius Friar, and I use an ad blocker when I surf the web.
I have since they existed, and will continue to do so until they are no longer needed.
I am shocked, when I use someone's computer (most often in workplaces, where you would think a barrage of distractions would be most problematic) and they don't have an ad blocker installed. I can't even look at the screen, much less focus on the content I'm trying to access with moving visual clutter on the edges of and embedded in every web site there is. I access one web site a lot
... the expansive KoL Wiki
, because I play the (most excellent) game Kingdom of Loathing
(I've apparently been playing for over seven years, wtf???). Anyway, the wiki displays the following along the side of my screen when I visit: "Hello! Thank you for using Coldfront services. If you would like to help us cover our costs, please consider disabling Adblock for this site. Thanks!" (and there is a spot for another advert at the top). In fact, I access it enough, and I am so appreciative of the fact that they make the site available, that a couple of years back, I thought: "well, I do want to support them, so I will disable ad blocking on their site". Madre de dios O_o... it was like being punched in the face... over and over... non-stop. No! Zero stars! Would not recommend, and will not repeat! Needless to say, ad blocking was very quickly re-enabled. I went so far as to send them an email asking if I could just send them money to "help cover their costs" (I seriously appreciate the site and don't mind supporting them). I never heard back.
Why this post? A friend just sent me a link to an article that I had already seen a reference to, but didn't follow up on because it was an article from The New York Times. The issue is that, for better or for worse, they have recently made viewing their articles contingent on me either disabling ad blocking for their site, or paying for a subscription. I will do neither because I will not support an organization that wishes to commit a violent act against me (that's enabling behaviour, and it is bad for all concerned... and yes, I feel as though violence has been done to me when exposed to the sorts of online advertising that seems to be popular these days... not to mention I have political and ethical issues with much of what is
being advertised most of the time), and I do not access their content often enough to be able to justify paying for a subscription (think if I did this for every information outlet that took a similar approach... it would quickly exceed any amount of disposable income I have ever had). Furthermore, like the KoL Wiki, I am not presented with any additional options that match my needs, so I just close the New York Times tab quietly and move on with my, slightly more ignorant for the act, life (neither viewing their article, nor their advertising content). Like it is with other media content, I am very strongly supportive of providing some financial support to allow the continued production of the sorts of writing, music, video, etc. that I enjoy; however, I have to be given an option where I know that a) I am actually supporting the artist, writer, etc., b) allows me to do so easily, and c) provides a believable value proposition (don't get me started about academic articles, where to download a 6 page PDF costs $35US and up... and I know the authors do not get a single penny of any of that money because academic authors provide content for free in return for publishing that information... and yes, I know, the publisher needs to make money to continue to exist, but I can't be asked to support a deeply flawed business model and be expected to sing its praises).
Before going any further, I want to stress one thing. I do not feel as though I have any right
to being able to access the content on someone's web site for free (me having to look at ads is a form of payment). I feel that web sites like The New York Times and I have an implicit contract: they set the terms of my being able to access their content, and I can accept or reject their terms as I see fit. If the only way they can stay in business is to scar the eyeballs and brains of people trying to read the news with garish ads designed to rip your attention away from the content that got you there (I never said I wouldn't have an opinion about it, heh, I just said they had a right to theirs as well), or offer an unpalatable (to me) pay-for-play option, then they have the right to deny me access over the web. Ultimately, because it's an important news site, society is poorer for how that turned out in my case (don't worry, I'm not aggrandizing myself, but multiply my eyeballs by thousands and I think I have a valid argument). I also wanted to say that I think the diminishment of editorial intervention and curation of information due to the collapse of the publishing industry makes society poorer as well (it no longer costs anything to reproduce content, so any industry that relied on control over the means of production and distribution... books, music, movies, etc.... are only hobbling along because of increasingly draconian copyright legislation and the fear of imprisonment or huge fines for regular citizens, and would completely collapse without it because they are not innovating how they operate because of those protections). Self publishing (for all manner of media) is a wonderful option, but there is something to be said for having professional editors and label/imprint/etc. managers... it has been my experience as an editor and publisher myself that it makes a huge difference in the quality of the end product (no matter how good a writer or musician or videographer happens to be). So... the broken business model that is hobbling along right now is also squeezing out an entire class of intermediaries that I think are still very much needed (yes, self-publishing artists can hire people to do the job, but how many have the resources to do so, or the inclination to let someone else touch their precious work?). I like polished works (and rough works... it depends on my mood and the kind of work it is) and want a workable, sustainable, solution to be found to this problem.
What is the answer? Well, I definitely have some ideas, but they are sufficiently ambitious and would require such widespread agreement and adoption, that they are effectively hopeless fantasy. Some (problematic) ideas include ubiquitous and transparent microtransactions (an anonymous tag that would transfer some very small amount to any site visited or a small amount for any content downloaded); the tagging of content such that (from my web browser), I can push a button and elect to transfer a preset amount to the creator/source of the content (no matter how I got it); an Internet tax that automatically did the microtransaction payments (the monthly amount would be built into the subscription price for Internet access and then divvied up to any sites visited at the end of the month); or actual government subsidies to providers of certain kinds of web content (news, educational materials, etc.). In short, there is no real answer to the problem, but organizations like The New York Times are drawing ever more stark battle lines. I honestly don't mind being advertised at (as part of a transaction where I am provided content in return for providing access to an advertiser to my eyeballs), but only when it's tasteful and discrete... e.g. clearly tagged advertisement links in search results, as an image on the side like on Reddit, as a basic (non-animated or garish) thin banner ad on a site. Until such a time as I can safely browse the 'net without the distraction of intrusive advertising, my ad blocker will remain universally on.
As a final note, I regularly send (small, affordable, amounts of) money to the folks who do Kingdom of Loathing (KoL) because I derive ongoing enjoyment out of playing that game. In return, I get a nifty in-game item for my cash. I should stress that one can play KoL without ever giving them a cent... they rely entirely on voluntary payments, and have done so since they started over a decade ago. It is an amazing creative endeavour and they even have a full time staff that they pay from these voluntary payments. They do not rely on advertising revenue at all (although they did try once, and it was quickly dropped because it neither enhanced the experience, nor brought in the amounts of money they were promised by the organization [Google] serving up the ads). So, when I say I will support sites that provide me with value, I do put my money (what little of it I have) where my mouth is. I do something similar with Tympanik Audio
, a music label, where most of their stuff can be listened to for free on Bandcamp or the like (officially put there by the record company and/or artist), but if I like something, I will pay for the album (their pricing model does not feel like gouging either, so I feel like I'm getting a good value at the same time). Similarly for specific indie artists like Josie Charlwood, Computer Magic, and Princess Chelsea... I'll cough up the dough to directly support them. And to wrap up... once upon a time, I was responsible for a multi-million dollar international high technology project (a high-availability/fault-tolerant scalable supercomputer which, I might add, was delivered successfully on time and budget). It required many custom and semi-custom systems, and we would contact companies that did similar things to what we needed about whether they could/would adapt their systems to our specific requirements. In some cases, these were large companies... in other cases, they were small. Universally, they would fall all over themselves to satisfy my every whim. But here's the problem: it didn't always fit in with their larger business model and was not a sustainable way to conduct themselves. It was a short-term win, but didn't move them forward in the long run (and sucked up a whole bunch of resources that could be used for better purposes), and in some cases I had to push back hard to force them to undergo a process of self-reflection about whether they were better off with my business or without it (in some cases, they realized it would hamper their business and in others, they realized it aligned well with their direction). I would always win in the short term because I had the money to throw at the problem, and the company would have a short term win for having made a sale; however, we both lost in the long term because they sidelined important resources to satisfy my particular project even when it didn't give them a product they could take to other customers, and I lost because the product I was usuing was dead-ended (for maintenance and evolution) even before I bought it. I see the current war over, as it is called, the monetization of the web, as being a perfect example of an insatiable drive to pour incalculable resources into a business model that is doomed to fail (e.g. newspapers sold ads and subscriptions when they were paper, so "that must be the way to succeed on the web"... not), when that same amount of resources could be dedicated to making something new and sustainable (a win-win).
... etc. ...