Web ads are an evil, but to some extent one that publishers consider necessary. Stratechery has an interesting post on the rise of programmatic ad networks—networks that track viewers across multiple web sites to build an interest profile, so that they can then serve ads targeted toward that profile on any site those users visit. The biggest problem with these networks is that the Javascript code they run on makes websites that use them obnoxiously clunky—but the publishers see them as just about the only way to make money on their content.

Advertisers’ strong preference for programmatic advertising is why it’s so problematic to only discuss publishers and users when it comes to the state of ad-supported web pages: if advertisers are only spending money — and a lot of it — on programmatic advertising, then it follows that the only way for publishers to make money is to use programmatic advertising.

As John Gruber points out in a post the Stratechery article quotes, this can make page sizes (and drain on mobile device battery power) simply ridiculous—but Safari Content Blockers will cut down on this by stripping out the Javascript code.

This kind of thing is why ad-blockers and ad-blocker-defeating companies are engaged in an ongoing arms race to try to make sure that readers don’t or do have to put up with advertisements. The Wall Street Journal notes that, as a projected $171 billion industry, there’s plenty of money to go around for this.

In response to the ad-blocking software, publisher and ad sellers have recently been hiring or joining with developers and firms aimed at circumventing the anti-ad technology with their own software solutions. A handful of startups are now offering ad-blocking runarounds, including PageFair, based in Ireland, and Secret Media and Sourcepoint USA Inc., both based in New York.

I find the whole thing darkly amusing. Do the advertisers honestly think that forcing their ads onto someone unwillingly is going to make that person want to buy their product? But given how much of sites’ revenue rely on ads, it’s easy to see why they might feel this way.


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