crackedOn, blogger Rian van der Merwe shares some thoughts about the unsightly clutter that has been showing up on webpages for some time now. He cites as examples a Harvard Business Review article that has not one but two overlapping ads in front of it that must be clicked to be removed, and “where in my unscientific estimation about 15% of the page above the fold is devoted to the actual text of the article.”

And there’s other clutter, too: a multitude of social network “like” buttons and follow-this-site social network and RSS feed links, There are so many social networks and feed techniques that sites don’t want to miss out on any method by which readers might want to share or follow their site. (I like to think we on TeleRead have kept that clutter down to the minimum we can, but even so you can see our own share and like buttons above and below this piece.)

Rian is concerned that readers’ attention spans are being depleted as they are distracted to exhaustion by so much clutter.

As advertising clickthrough rates continue to drop, the ads become more desperate and invasive, and readers are starting to notice and do something about it. I’m doing the majority of my reading in RSS and Instapaper where I can read in peace without being pummeled by distractions.

In his article, Rian quoted a piece by developer Brent Simmons on on the proliferation of clutter. Simmons wrote a further post, warning that people can and will do something about it with apps like Instapaper, Readability, Flipboard, AdBlock, Safari Reader, and so on. More of these apps are popping up every day, responding to readers’ desire to reformat their articles in more readable form. He warns publishers:

The future is, one way or another, readable.

Because that’s what readers want, and because the technology is easier to find and use and learn than ever. That trend will continue because developers live to give people technologies that make life better.

This means that ads will go-unviewed. Analytics will be less and less accurate. (They’re already inaccurate.)

Some companies, at least, are realizing this. Amazon’s been sticking ads into its Kindle, but only in places where readers spend at most a few moments of attention—the title list or the screen saver. It wouldn’t dream of interfering with the actual reading experience of the book, because it knows if it does that it will turn readers off in droves.

But the web has succumbed to the camel’s nose of advertising to the point where it can sometimes be hard to find the article amid all the clutter. It’s not quite as bad as what you get on warez sites yet, but it doesn’t take much to make me reach for that Readability (or, rather, Evernote Clearly now) button anymore.

(It’s also worth noting that Simmons’s site, at least ,practices what it preaches: the display of the article already looks a lot like what I would have gotten from Clearly without having to press the button.)


  1. While van der Merwe has a point, the major driver for the advertising clutter that he has a problem with is the need for sites to earn an INCOME. Wake up Mr van der Merwe. All of this content does not spring up naturally from the ‘ether’.
    Until we develop a system of payment, like a unified micropayment system, then this ‘problem’ will continue and spread.

  2. Except is the ads effectiveness declines, then the income of many sites will reduce to a point where their viability will end. That is not in anyone’s interest either.
    We need a universal micropayment system urgently imho.

  3. Except if the income of sites reduces to a point where their viability ends, those people who want those sites to continue will find ways of paying them to do so.

    It’s called the free market, dude. Deal with it.

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