Is web content about to experience an “adblockolypse” now?

Those are the concerns expressed in this piece on the Columbia Journalism Review, which offers an overview of the phenomenon and some fairly alarming estimates regarding the number of people who are doing it. (One source suggests that almost half of all US Internet users block ads.)

And it’s not just companies like Eyeo with Adblock Plus that advertisers have to worry about. Even Apple itself is joining the throng, enabling ad-blocking in its Safari browser. Other companies are experimenting with technology that can block ads on mobile networks before they’re sent out to smartphones, reducing the network load and users’ bills. Meanwhile, another faction of companies is developing anti-ad-blocker tech, which aims to circumvent ad-blockers or at least ask people using them to turn them off. (I’ve seen some web sites do this already.)

It seems doubtful to me that this anti-ad-blocker tech will work very well, because the ad-blockers will simply modify their blockers to work around it. That kind of arms race never ends well. But if Internet users continue to block ads, analysts express concern that the current crop of free content providers on the Internet may go away.

One thing that the CJR article doesn’t mention is that for some people, blocking ads isn’t just a matter of saving bandwidth and getting their pages to load faster. It’s also a privacy and security issue, as the blocking also blocks things like tracking cookies or potentially harmful software. Malfeasants have used ad-delivery networks as carriers for viruses before, and they probably will again. And unfortunately, it’s not so simple to just block the “bad” ads and let the “good” ones through (for all that Eyeo’s based its business model on trying to do that).

Even more benign advertising code can still levy a huge performance hit on people’s computers, especially if the computers are a few years old. Even people who don’t mind viewing ads with the recognition that they permit their sites to stay in business can reach the point where they get fed up with taking huge performance hits to their computer.

As I’ve said before, I myself block ads on most sites as a matter of course, only disabling the ad-blocker when I hit sites like Hulu that won’t work properly without showing ads. Even sites that use the “we see you’re blocking ads, could you do us a favor and not?” approach don’t elicit much more than a snort from me. The ads are just too annoying and obnoxious in general.

And ad-blocking is seductively simple and easy. It’s a simple decision; you just install a plug-in and you’re done. If you should decide you do need to unblock ads on a particular site, you can click the icon and do that. But usually you just don’t think about it. You don’t have to think about it; that’s part of the appeal. Since the ads stay out of sight, they stay out of mind.

I say that at the same time I reflect that TeleRead itself relies on advertising revenue, though we don’t seem to have many ads at the moment—just one static image in the upper right corner of the homepage, which doesn’t seem to appear within the stories itself. So, if you do block ads, maybe you could do us a solid and add TeleRead to your ad-blocker’s exception list, at least until and unless we should hit you with something annoying? (Yeah, I know what I said about my response to ads that ask me to do that, but hey, it’s worth a try.)

Beyond that, I don’t know if there’s any kind of solution available. People don’t want a cluttered web. They don’t want to be annoyed. And for all that analysts express concern that content is going to disappear, there haven’t yet been any high-profile site shutdowns blamed on revenue loss from ad-blocking that I’m aware of. It may take one before people start seriously considering what they’re doing when they block ads.

(Found via Slashdot.)


  1. I use ad-blocker, ghostery also about two weeks ago I completely removed adobe flash–I do not miss it–I do this because of bandwidth and to keep malware down. All youtube videos play using the html5 player, the only site I found that uses flash is Hulu if I want to watch something on Hulu I will use a Window Firefox with flash using linux wine.

  2. As I see it, ads are useless like tits on a bull, and would be completely eliminated in an ideal world. If this means changing the way content is viewed on the Internet, then so be it. I would gladly pay $20 or so a month to my cable bill to never see an ad again. Perhaps someone else can think of a better way.

  3. I see the ads as a necessary evil, and don’t mind stationary ads as long as they don’t interfere with reading the text.

    I’ll even put up with the short “skip this ad in 3…2…1” video ads on YouTube, although the 30-second long commercials with no opt-out are a real annoyance. And on regular web pages, I can tolerate (but dislike) the silent GIF/video ads that are visually distracting because of the movement. The biggest reason I use AdBlocker is that I have need to use the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, and their video ads that kick in WITH sound are really obnoxious (sometimes there isn’t even a video to click on to make it stop). For me, that was the “pop-up” that made me download ad blocking software. If there were a version of ad blocking software that only blocked self-starting ads with sound, I’d be okay with that.

  4. I don’t mind subtle ads, but too many are just IN-YOUR-FACE, banners, pop-ups, and they have a tiny dismiss icon, which means that you hit the ad itself rather than dismiss it. I modified my HOSTS file in Windows to send most ads to which seems to work. Small ads on the edges of the page are ok, just keep them out of my face.

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