I’ve seen a lot lately about Ad Blockers used on web sites: how sites are responding to more Ad Blocker use, the rising numbers of ads on a page, malicious ads, etc. It’s been in the tech news. I even installed an Ad Blocker myself recently.
Here’s the thing: I don’t mind ads anymore. I used to absolutely hate them, but back in late 2008 I had a revelation. I was using this new-fangled programming question and answer site called Stack Overflow, which aimed to compete with the notorious Experts Exchange. Both sites used ads, but Experts Exchange purported to be mainly subscription based, while Stack Overflow was going to be fully ad supported. I’ll give you one guess which site actually had a better experience. This stark contrast caused me to rethink my position on web advertising. Since then I’ve avoided using Ad Blockers, at least for the most part.
Things have been changing, though. As I said, I was recently forced… yes, forced… to install an Ad Blocker. Something is different now about the way ads are served on the web, leaving the use of Ad Blockers as the only recourse for many of us.
But I’d like to avoid this. I remember the old web, before a small sites could pay the bills from ads. I don’t want to go back to that. I don’t want to go back to Experts Exchange. Instead, I want a new kind of Ad Blocker… one that actually allows ads by default. My suggestion is for this new Ad Blocker to only take actions when one of these seven principles are violated:
- Serve a malicious ad to users… even one… and all ads on a site are blocked for year.
- The service monitors ad networks. An ad network serves a malicious ad to users… even one… and all ads from that network are blocked for a year, no matter what site. The service does NOT monitor affiliates. If an ad network fails to adequately police it’s affiliates, the whole network is penalized.
- Ads using Flash, Silverlight, Java, etc are blocked. Perhaps some day interactive ads will find their place, but this is not that day.
- Ads playing audio or video without action by the user are blocked. A hover is not an action by the user. This may eventually extend to all ads on a page, site, or ad network for repeat offenses.
- If ad content on a page is > 25% of the total page size, all ads on the page will be blocked. (This may be determined as an aggregate across all of the service’s users, as some affiliates may legitimately occasionally place a larger ad on a smaller page.)
- Ads are blocked on sites that prioritize loading ad content over page content.
- If ads interfere with using a page or substantially confuse users, all ads on the entire site are blocked. Possibly this would need to be implemented via user reporting.
- User tracking that extends beyond a actual site visited or actual ad served are blocked. Right now, this is most tracking, but I believe an effective blocking strategy can influence advertisers to improve behavior, or at least be less obtrusive about it 🙁
I’ll add one bonus principle that’s really more of a feature option: users should have the option of blocking categories of objectionable content in ads, such as pornographic (or even mildly explicit), gambling, politics, etc. However, I some previous experience with content categorization engines, and this may be a much more difficult feature than it gets credit for up front.
Some of these principles may seem like death sentences to a site or ad network, but remember that not everyone uses ad blocking services. Rather than stopping all ads, this would be merely be modest penalty. I think enough people using an Ad Blocker that follows these principles could have a strongly positive effect on the internet as a whole. I also believe it would actually INCREASE revenue for sites and ad networks alike, by improving user trust and confidence in the ads they see (thereby increasing the value of each impression) and by shaking some of the more irresponsible players out of the industry, thereby leaving a higher share for those who remain.