Ad-blocking browser plug-in Adblock Plus has released its criteria for “Acceptable Ads.” Though the blog post in which they announce them doesn’t say so, presumably an “Acceptable Ad” is one that Adblock Plus wouldn’t actually block (though the blog post, it should be noted, does not actually mention anything about a willingness on Adblock Plus’s part not to block such ads—which might just be because of one teensy problem with their definitions, which I cover below).
These magical criteria are as follow:
- Acceptable Ads are not annoying.
- Acceptable Ads do not disrupt or distort the page content we’re trying to read.
- Acceptable Ads are transparent with us about being an ad.
- Acceptable Ads are effective without shouting at us.
- Acceptable Ads are appropriate to the site that we are on.
There’s even a link to a change.org petition calling for such ads. (It only has a 100-signature requirement. Perhaps they expect only advertisers to sign it?)
It seems reasonable enough, on the face of it. There’s this one little, teeny, tiny, immense problem.
The definition of important terms like “annoying,” “transparent,” “effective,” and “appropriate” are awfully hard to find. You have to click on “read full manifesto” to see them. (At first, I wrote this whole post based on such definitions not being there at all, and then I had to go back and make some edits when I clicked on the “read full Manifesto text” button and found they were there after all.)
The criteria, once you actually find them, are sensible—the ads shouldn’t flash and jiggle at you, they shouldn’t pop up in front of the content you’re trying to read, they shouldn’t pretend to be actual content, they shouldn’t play loud noises without warning, and people shouldn’t be subjected to porn or diet scam ads when they’re reading mainstream news—but they’re kind of hidden at a glance.
This is…kind of important, because, unexplained, these criteria are entirely subjective, and I guarantee you that there is a significant subset of the Internet who will find any advertisement, no matter how well-blended with the rest of the site, annoying as a matter of principle. (And I will admit, I myself would come close to that at times.) Some of them are even willing to pay $150 for an ad-blocking hardware solution.
No wonder Adblock Plus stops short of actually announcing a willingness to allow such “non-annoying” ads through in its plug-in! If they copped to that, they’d probably lose a considerable number of their users!
(That being said, Adblock Plus actually does admit elsewhere that it allows “acceptable” ads by default, though this behavior can be disabled within the plugin’s settings. For that matter, this page does provide a more explicit—and extensive—criteria for non-annoying ads, too.)
This is kind of an important issue, when you get right down to it. Advertisements are one of the ways that the free web keeps itself free. But they’ve been going to such extremes lately that a lot of readers are blocking them all just so they can read online content without a lot of flashing banners constantly getting in their faces. Even a friend of mine, who fully understood and was philosophically accepting of the necessity of viewing ads to keep free content free, recently hit his limit and installed blocking software.
Some sites, like Hulu, have ad-blocker detectors and exhort people to disable their ads for said sites or even disallow viewing the content from such sites while ads are blocked. (Hulu’s is, at least, somewhat effective; people who disable ads can still watch the videos, but have significantly longer dead-air gaps than the amount of time the ads would take up.) There are also sites like HitBliss that get people to watch the ads ahead of time in return for an ad-free experience later. Still, the majority of sites don’t go to that extra trouble and lose out on revenue when people decide to block the ads.
It’s unclear whether this is a supportable state of affairs in the long run.
(Note: Unless I’m more confused than I think. Adblock Plus is a different organization than the AdBlock non-plus who launched an ad campaign last year to let people know that they can block ads with AdBlock. I believe the extension blocking ads in my browser is this AdBlock. But I’m not sure.)
A better solution would allow the ads to “run”, but they would be hidden from the user. This might not work for all sorts of ads, but modding the browser so that certain content is downloaded and registered as an impression while not bothering the user would be a partial compromise, although it would eliminate click-throughs.
Either way the future of web content is direct user engagement combined with ads that cannot be easily skipped such as product placements or ads completely integrated with the video. By direct user engagement I mean something like a Kickstarter or PBS model that allows people to pay what they want for the content they choose to support in addition to selling physical products tied into the content. Most indie producers already work this way, but this consumer first approach has het to hit Big Media about the head and neck to force some much needed cost control.
Adblock Edge is an free/libre/open source fork sans any “acceptable ads” features.
A few websites I visit have ads that don’t piss off their users, or even are welcomed by their users (the only reason I’d turn off ads on Ravelry would be because I can’t afford to learn about the nifty products advertised), but they’re sites geared towards a specialized audience and able to handle small-scale advertisers. These ad programs don’t seem to scale well to a high-traffic general-interest site.
It’s too bad; there’s lots of little and medium-sized companies out there whose products I might well be interested in, and I’d welcome those ads rather than another round of “this secret will help you burn belly fat fast!”, but there doesn’t seem to be an efficient way to get small companies’ ads to the right narrow slice of a larger site.