A brief history of ad blocking software
Ad blocking software has been around for years now, and many web browsers have it built in. It pretty much all started as the classic "pop-up blocker" which stopped annoying pop-ups from, well, popping up. I remember when so many websites would insist on opening a bunch of windows whenever you'd navigate to one of their web pages, and having pop-up blocking built into the web browser was pretty much a godsend. For a while, ads weren't really that annoying.
Then ads with sound started to come. Most of these ads could at least be stopped by blocking Flash until you really needed it, since that was what all of those animated ads with sounds used. Those weren't a big deal.
But then ads became clever in how annoying they could be. When HTML5 rolled in, video and audio playback was now something standard and native in web browsers. This allowed ads to go into new levels of annoyance never before seen by mere mortals, and now everyone has to see it.
This, combined with the rather creepy tracking (yes, now every site gets to know that I looked at ________ online), has made it difficult to stand going on most popular websites. Ad blocking software had to get better for this problem to be fixed.
Cross-site tracking and personalized ads
Cross site tracking can be tricky to point out, since it's usually pretty subtle, and I can't just check the site's database. And of course, not every search or page view results in instant results.
Anyway, for the past few months, I've been doing some job hunting. Since I've just gotten out of college about half a year ago and I live in the United States, getting a job has been a priority for me. I also love Pokémon and I get some merchandise every once in a while. So, I looked online for a Totodile plushie and learned that Amazon had something. I went on Amazon to check it out, and then I went to Facebook.
I got an ad for some Pokémon rip-off thing that wants to take my money (I looked at it and it's some pay-to-win MMO that Facebook decided was a good idea to advertise even though it's obviously a rip-off), and I got an ad for Amazon jobs.
I am NOT saying Amazon is the one who tracked me, since I've looked at Pokémon content on a number of websites, although Amazon does have personalized ads.
However, the jobs thing is fairly suspect, as I have been looking for jobs on a number of websites. I have NOT looked for jobs on Facebook, nor have I expressed my intention to get a job through Facebook, so why would it be wanting to give me ads for it? Either way, I find the whole prospect both creepy and annoying, since it could've been from an ad on any site.
Also, if you're logged into Facebook, some sites give you the option to comment on said pages... with Facebook. And your name even shows up. Look!
This implies two things:
- Facebook now knows that you visited that exact web page.
- The website can traverse that iframe if it wants to, so now it potentially knows your real name without you ever posting anything.
It's worth noting that Apple recently blocked cross-site tracking in their Safari web browser by purging third-party cookies. Also, Microsoft now optionally blocks cross-site tracking in their new Edge browser.
There are also browsers such as Brave which have a number of ways to block this kind of tracking by default.
Surprisingly, most people don't seem to care about being tracked like this, but I think that's because a lot of people are too busy to think about it. Websites really have no business having this kind of information.
Remember the saying, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog"? Looks like that's no longer true.
How much space can ads take up on a page?
Here are some example web pages with ads, each with a percentage of how much screen real estate is taken up by ads. Note that any negative space generated by an ad being there is also factored into this percentage, since without that ad, that empty space wouldn't be there, either.
BBC - 12.2% (acceptable)
This is fine. Content isn't being obstructed, and the ad usage is fairly tame. It's worth noting there was an ad above the article, but I scrolled past that since the article hadn't started, as it wouldn't have been relevant.
I would personally be fine viewing this page as it is.
Chron - 48.8% (barely tolerable)
Ads are getting a bit intrusive here. Pretty much all of the right side has ads, which means the amount of space text can be on is limited. Also, some ads are taking up space in the article, itself, which makes reading it a bit less fluid. A small part of the page is obstructed by the ad on the bottom right corner.
It's not terrible, but I'd probably prefer this page with ads turned off.
Forbes - 92.7% (unusable)
If this was a credit card site and I was particularly thrilled about the prospect of getting a credit card, then this would be fine. However, I have a decently sized pile of student debt, so I'd rather have nothing to do with credit cards. Also this is Forbes.
Even when you close the credit card thing, you'll ACTUALLY find that this whole page is an ad. Yep! I wanted to read an actual article, but instead, I got an ad and a half shoved into my face.
I was actually expecting worse, since they used to have sites that played sound, but it seems they finally toned that down. Or I was lucky.
Either way, ad blocking is the only way to make this site actually usable. Sorry, Forbes.
Getting people to view ads again
I get it. Web sites need to be able to make money to keep running. If they don't, they won't be able to pay their staff or pay for hosting.
But here's the thing: so many sites have chosen to use ads that made the Internet intolerable, and the obvious solution was indiscriminate ad blocking. I personally hate that, but I can't blame people for wanting to do that. After all, for people to view anything on their page without one day bursting a blood vessel, using ad blocking software is basically a requirement.
There is, however, a decent way you can get people to not block ads on your site. Here's how you do it:
- Remove all annoying ads from your site. Make sure ads do not play sound, slow down the web browser, take up too much space, or do anything disruptive
- Ask people with ad blocking software to whitelist your site, promising that the ads won't drastically impact their experience.
You get money for showing ads, and everyone gets to view your site without their browser exploding. Everyone is happy, and it's easy!
Maybe ads are a necessary evil, but it falls on the website to make sure that they're implemented in a way that isn't excessively disruptive... or intrusive.
Unfortunately, a lot of website owners decided it was a great idea to ruin the Internet for everyone. So, in order to make the Internet tolerable again, people had to take matters into their own hands by implementing ad blocking.
For me, I'd prefer to never block ads ever. I feel every site should be compensated for the work they put out. And, yes, I'll even sit through 15 second ads on YouTube before a video, because I genuinely want to support the amazing people who make me the videos I watch.
But filling my entire screen with so many ads that I can't view your page properly? Yeah, no, you're not going to convince people to see your stupid, overzealous, tracking ads.