Please look at our ads: they pay the bills (et les cowboys)

It's Topical Tuesday's IT Blogwatch: in which we ponder the unintended consequences of blocking Web advertising. Not to mention how Brokeback Mountain confused the French...

The Gray Lady's Noam Cohen waxes worrisome:

Adblock Plus [is] an easy-to-use free addition to the Firefox Internet browser that deletes advertisements from Web sites ... [but] What happens when the advertisements are wiped clean from a Web site?

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Adblock Plus — while still a niche product for a niche browser — is potentially a huge development in the online world, and not because it simplifies Web sites cluttered with advertisements. The larger importance of Adblock is its potential for extreme menace to the online-advertising business model. After an installation that takes but a minute or two, Adblock usually makes all commercial communication disappear. No flashing whack-a-mole banners. No Google ads based on the search terms you have entered. From that perspective, the program is an unwelcome arrival after years of worry that there might never be an online advertising business model to support the expense of creating entertainment programming or journalism, or sophisticated search engines, for that matter.

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Wladimir Palant, developer of the open-source Adblock Plus project ... is not an ideological opponent of online advertising. For example, he counts himself a fan of the ads that show up with a Google search, saying they are useful and unobtrusive. [more]

Nick Carr comments:

Adblock Plus ... is a killer of a killer app - or at least it could be if it ever becomes widely popular. Right now, it sits like a coyote at the edge of the net, quietly eyeing all the businesses it would happily devour ... Google ... has by far the most to lose ... [it] is in a particularly dicey position. The broad adoption of ad-blocking software could devastate its business, yet an outright attempt to block the use of such programs would run counter to its often-expressed commitment to give users what they want. If web users decide they don't want to see ads, Google would face an extremely unpleasant dilemma. Either its business or its credibility would end up in tatters.

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The most interesting aspect of Cohen's article is that one company with a big stake in the ad business, Microsoft, did choose to offer a ... fascinating ... comment ... While carefully avoiding any endorsement of ad-blocking plug-ins, Microsoft also carefully avoids any criticism of them. (Although Adblock Plus works only with Firefox and related browsers, other ad blockers are available for Microsoft's Internet Explorer.) Indeed, it seems to be giving its tacit approval to the development and use of the plug-ins ... Microsoft's laissez-faire attitude may seem surprising, but it reflects a cold strategic calculation. Microsoft knows that ad blockers pose a far greater threat to Google than to itself. As they say: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. [more]

JD Lasica grumbles:

I won't be using it. If it catches on widely, it will spell the death of the vast majority of online publications (other than blogs), many of which are scraping by with some modest ad revenue. [more]

Tris Hussey agrees:

I won’t be installing it and I really hope other’s don’t as well ... Here is the problem, everyone wants content to be free, no subscription fees and the like, but websites cost real money to run.  If you don’t charge for access to the content, you have to earn money somehow, and that would be advertising.  Short of the work I do as a consultant, a lot of my income over the past three years has been derived from advertising.  Maybe not directly always, but at the heart of it–advertising has been there.

Granted I don’t expect that millions of people will start using this extension, but I would like you to pause for a moment to remember that real people, like all the editors at blognation, pay for their groceries, rents and bills from the proceeds of ad revenue. [more]

Deane Barker is noticing more and more product placement:

There is no free lunch, and the piper has to be paid somewhere ... What’s probably going to happen is you’re going to see ads get more integrated into other information. [Federated Media] has been big on their “conversational marketing” with things like the FM Battle Royale (I’m still totally winning). Sure, it’s advertising for Toshiba, but it’s interesting beyond the sponsorship, and it’s relatively unblockable. More importantly, I don’t think anyone would want to block it, because it’s kind of interesting.

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Shows are starting to incorporate thinly-veiled ads directly into their content ... I’ve noticed it more and more on “MadTV” of all places. That show went four straight episodes once with someone saying the phrase “Toyota Yaris.” The car itself appeared in two or three sketches. Even more blatant, they had a sketch set in a video store, and one of the characters went off on a tangent about the release of “Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj.” Later, she talked in-depth about the plot of “Turistas,” and what appeared to be the entire trailer to the film played in the background.

I welcome stuff like this, I really do. Like it or not, advertising is the currency of media. Unless you want to pay for everything you watch, read, or hear, advertising is going to have to be somewhere ... if you successfully block its traditional methods, it will just come out in more subversive ways. It’s up to us which method we let stick — but one of them will have to stick, trust me. [more]

Mark Evans brandishes the "E" word:

Looming on the horizon, however, is an evil predator. Adblock Plus ... Anyone using Adblock wants to eat their cake (access free content and services) and have it too (no advertising). Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t gorge yourself at the Web buffet without paying for it in some way such as seeing advertising.

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For better or worse, a big chunk of the Web economy is built on a foundation of free supported by advertising. It’s the reason why so much great content is available, and why so many new and cool online services have been launched, creating a bountiful buffet for people looking to do just about anything. Whether this economic model is sustainable remains to be seen. It depends, in many ways, on whether enough advertising will move to the Web to support free.

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Anyone using Adblock is a fool because they clearly are missing the big economic picture. If you believe in Web 2.0 and/or if you believe in the concept of free, Adblock is pure evil.. [more]

But Jason Kolb thinks different:

I'm not a marketing major or anything, but it seems to me that ads can be broken down into two major categories: ads that are pushed to consumers, and ads which consumers pull to themselves ... In the Push method, advertisers try to convince consumers that they need their product. In some cases this can be a good thing, if the consumer is already in the market for what the advertiser is pushing. In the worst cases, such as spam, it can be annoying and even deceptive ... The epitome of the Internet Pull method is a Google search, where someone searches for "fruitcake", and gets a list of fruitcake vendors alongside a list of search results showing fruitcake history, ingredients, etc. To me, this is helpful information, and there are many times when I do a Google search for a product with the sole intention of looking at the AdWords ads for vendors.

The Internet represents both the Push and Pull methods in abundance. I think that there are definitely times when advertising can be helpful, but there are also many more forms of advertising which are annoying and even deceptive, and which I would love to see wiped off the face of the earth ... While we're getting rid of the annoying and useful ads we should definitely be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.. [more]

Ashkan "Froosh" Karbasfrooshan wonders what it all means:

As a voracious consumer (both reader and viewer) of free online content, the appearance of such a plug-in is a net-net negative in that if it does grow into something that is widespread, then it will reduce the propensity for more free content.

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The objective, as a member of the online content/community/commerce ecosystem, is to get more quality advertisers focusing on using the Web as an effective and efficient advertising platform so to remove the more dubious advertisers and advertising creative. Good companies develop good creative, which in turn are less annoying or seedy. But, by creating and spreading a tool that blocks all ads, then less, and not more advertisers will migrate online. And if that happens, Mr. Palant will find himself programming out of an online future. Of course, we’re not blaming him or anything, because if he does not do it, someone else will… and by developing this, he is in fact setting himself up to develop antidotes to adblocking software. [more]

Steven Hodson sums it up:

The natives are getting restless and they are priming up to fight back against one of the most irritating thing on the web ... Part of this problem is that internet users have become conditioned to believe that everything on the web is free; which is being exacerbated by the whole Web 2.0 movement, and feel that all these ads are intruding on their surfing time. Gone are the days where there was even the slightest understanding that even web site owners, bloggers and other content providers need to be able to pay bills and the only way this can be done is with advertising.

The unfortunate part of this is that in the users retaliation against this excessive advertising it is the small independent bloggers who are going to be hurt the most but eventually the effects of this anti-advertising mentality will affect everyone. We only have ourselves to blame. [more]

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... Brokeback Mountain, lost in translation

Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You too can pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email: blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

 
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