I often forget how ugly the internet actually is

We build websites. And we design sites that are simple, clean, and easy to navigate. Because it’s a good user experience and because it’s the aesthetics we admire in sites we frequent. But a funny thing happened to me the other day.

While testing a website we’re working on, I switched to Opera

There’s nothing bad about Opera the browser, it’s just not something I use regularly. But we do test our sites with it during final debugging. We also test Chrome, Safari, Firefox (my preference), and assorted versions of Internet Explorer. But on this day, I was testing Opera. The site we’d built was working fine... so I went and ate lunch.

When I came back, I started browsing the internet...

Drowsy due to my tasty lunch, I neglected to notice I was still using Opera and just started browsing the “net” as I sipped some coffee to wake up. It only took a few seconds to realize I was using the wrong browser. Each site I visited was littered with Ads, Ads, Ads, and more Ads. Ad backgrounds, animated ads, video ads... it was like someone had puked digitally into my browser. It was horrible.

I don’t have AdBlock running under Opera

The reason the “net” looked so horrible is that I don’t have AdBlocker installed for Opera. I run a variant under FireFox, Chrome, and Safari, but I’ve never looked for an add-on for Opera. And that’s when I realized, I’d forgotten just how horrible the internet actually is for most folks. It’s filled with ugly ads. Visual clutter of all sorts. It’s a really ugly place.

Yes, you can argue that AdBlocker robs sites of revenue...

Being in advertising, you’d think I’d be against blocking ads since most sites rely on them for operating income. And sure, that might be the case if it weren’t for the sheer magnitude and intrusiveness. Without AdBlocker it’s almost impossible to look at various sites (at least for me). Ads are injected everywhere, making everything look bad.

There has to be a better way

The better way comes down to two choices: one, you can install an AdBlocker like me on all your browsers - and then surf mostly annoyance-free. Or two, you can convince site owners to adopt a very limited ad space. John Gruber’s Daring Fireball does this well using Ads via The Deck. There’s ONE ad - and so I’ve unblocked his site. I can deal with one ad. And you know what’s even better.... I actually NOTICE that one ad. And I’ve often clicked on it when it interests me.

Sites don’t have to fill every space with ads. Instead, they should reserve premium spaces for very limited ads and simply charge more. Frankly, this is where the online ad world will end up eventually. As click-hrough rates drop and cost per impressions fall and online ads get cheaper and cheaper (via automated systems), eventually the bottom will fall out. The ads will simply generate too little money. Or, as we see now, they will have to become even more intrusive to gain attention (and clicks) to make money. And that will naturally drive folks towards Ad Blocking software - thereby dropping ad revenue. The problem is that websites still cling to old media ideas. Lots of ads worked for TV and Radio and Newspapers so it should work online too, right? But it’s just not so.

I was happy to return to FireFox and my AdBlock Plus add-on

After my short-lived adventure with the ugly internet, I was very happy to return to my normal browser and my ad-free internet. I really had forgotten how ugly it is - it’s sad really. It doesn’t have to be this way. But until things change, thank you AdBlock.

Sep 06, 2013

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