Techdirt Podcast Episode 42: Adblocking Wouldn't Be A Problem If Ads Didn't Suck So Much

from the doesn't-ad-up dept

Lots of publishers freak out about the existence of adblockers. Some seek ways to get around them, others simply complain. This might seem like a situation where the desires of publishers and the desires of readers are irreconcilably opposed — but is that truly the case? This week, we discuss the popular reactions to adblocking and look at the real problem with online advertising: the quality of the ads themselves.

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Comments on “Techdirt Podcast Episode 42: Adblocking Wouldn't Be A Problem If Ads Didn't Suck So Much”

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Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I did at first, yes, because I got bored of the “humour” of it all long before getting to the end. It’s satire, but bad satire, because it undermines its own point – good design is not easy, and there’s no evidence here that the author knows how to do it, just evidence that he’s able to spot egregious over-design. So what point is it really making? And how does it add anything to a conversation about online advertising, or website design? Yeah, snarky commenters can wield this snarky piece as a cudgel to mock anything they don’t like online – and that accomplishes what, exactly? It certainly doesn’t make any kind of coherent argument for sleeker design – it says “many sites are overdesigned, this site is laughably underdesigned, and the correct answer lies somewhere in between! I’m not going to tell you where because that’s a complex and challenging question to which I don’t actually know the answer, but I’m going to pretend the answer is painfully obvious so if you defy any of my personal preferences I can mock you!”

At least that’s how I read it.

sehlat (profile) says:

There's ANOTHER problem with advertising.

It’s generally delivered by third-party sites who take NO responsibility for the content, and sometimes that includes “drive-by malware.” Ad-blocking isn’t just stopping annoying ads. It’s self-defense to avoid getting your machine compromised.

As a side-issue, it may not matter, since Windows 10 comes pre-compromised with Microsoft Genuine Spyware®.

TomZ (profile) says:

Re: There's ANOTHER problem with advertising.

I agree wholeheartedly. A large reason for using ad blockers is that ad networks have NO interest in security and configure their systems to allow for remote ad hosting which can be configured to serve malware to a small percentage of visitors.

Ad blockers are a basic security step and I will only white list sites that I trust and really support. And of those site serve up annoying popup ads, interstitials or auto-play sound, i will just remove he bookmark and that site is dead to me.

DannyB (profile) says:

It's not the quality of the ads

It’s the quality of the malware contained within the ad.

Why should an ad be executing code on my computer? It’s one thing if an advertiser wants to put pixels in front of my eyes. Even targeted pixels, which might be better in that I may be potentially interested.

Advertisers know no bounds. Have no shame. Advertisers would get legislation to make it mandatory to put animated advertisements on the insides of our eyelids if the technology were available. After all, the argument would go . . . when you close your eyes, you’re not looking at anything, so what does it hurt to insert an friendly ad into that space. The next improvement would be sound to go with the eyelid ads.

The world is polluted with ads.

The problem is it doesn’t scale. It’s not as bad as telemarketing. Or spam. But it’s effectively the same problem as spam, but at a cost to the advertiser. If every possible advertiser could get an ad in front of your face, any time they want, life would simply not be worth living. And the advertisers would not care!

Dear advertisers: when I need your product, I am resourceful enough to find it!

No Ads are good for your systems says:

Ad's Carry Malware, Eat Bandwidth

Until there’s regulation that comes with teeth, heavy fines and perhaps jail time, Advertising – to me – is just a vector for malware getting on my systems.

Will my ISP, or any site I visit be on the hook for malware entering my machine because their advertising process didn’t sandbox ads and test each and every incoming stream?

Will the site pay visitors for bandwidth used for ads they never wanted to see?

Will sites in cooperation with some ad cooperative give users parental control over which ads are served?

These are the basic things keeping me away from seeing ads on most sites.

I read the news, Yahoo’s ads ( were purported to effect loads of honest visitors, why would I possible trust any site to load ads on my systems until there’s punitive measures to force companies and their sites to take 100% responsibility for the ads they serve?

It’s not just about presentation, it’s about trust.

Mark Wing (user link) says:

I have ads enabled for my blogs, though personally I use a HOSTS file to filter out most ads. I also tell Chrome not to let flash auto play for anything.

So obviously I’m torn. My blogs don’t make much money, but I also understand that people would want to turn all ads on all web sites off.

And as a blogger, there’s not much freedom I have to tell Google what exact ads to serve. It’s all done by them, and they have a “don’t be evil” sign hanging in their lobby. Most of the freedom I have is just to turn Adsense on or off.

Anonymous Coward says:

What to do as a publisher?

Keep releasing daily content. Work and work and work, and make sure you have new stuff on your site for folks to come get. Engage w/your fans and offer them the newest stuff, and then build a subscription base around your loyal community, while also selling additionals that people purchase . Offer(merch, inclusion in the works, participation in future works, personalized work, etc.).

Connect with your fans, and give them a reason to buy. Remember you are no longer a writer/publisher, you are a T-Shirt salesman. If you give people your writing for free that will come and hear you read live.

Glenn says:

Advertising will be the downfall of civilization. It’s responsible for inflation more than any other factor. It’s responsible for extremely inflated “salaries” of people who provide no service whatsoever–stealing dollars from everyone to pay billions of dollars to a relative few. Unless we return to “get what you pay for and pay for what you get”… it’s only going to get worse. Yep, we’re doomed.

Scott (profile) says:

Pre-roll Ads

I will do whatever it takes to block these type of ads. Watch a 30sec ad for 2 mins of content…really?? Whats worse is when on a a long video you have to watch the SAME AD every 6 or 7 mins.
I’ve used AdBlock + for years and my list of custom blocking rules are quite long. BTW, its not that hard to opt out of AB+ “allowed” ads…just uncheck the box

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t see a transcript anywhere and that site is trying to force me to turn on Javashit. Anyone got a link to a transcript that I can read without letting some stranger run code on my box?

No transcript, but not need for Javascript either. You can just download the MP3 and listen to it however you’d like.

David (profile) says:

Erfworld ( just had to go through an ad cleanup, and their problem was that all the worst ads were also their highest-paying. They had to dump a bunch of revenue to get rid of ads that were actually crashing the site.

But their experience also makes it obvious what sort of cycle is happening. Publishers are incentivized to push out the ads that pay the most, that the users hate the most, and are most likely to want to block. So users block more, and the publisher sees a revenue drop, so they look into what will pay more to make up the difference, which gives them more ads that users want to block even more…

And of course there’s the ongoing problem of malware in advertising networks. Publishers don’t want to vet ads and serve them from their own domain (ie: take responsibility for what they’re actually serving to their users). Ad networks want to track you all over the internet, and run auctions to maximize the value (for them) of every ad they serve. The only way for the user to win is to get out of the game entirely — which means ad blockers.

Mark Wing (user link) says:

Oh, I definitely hold sites like Techdirt up for what a blog should be. It’s hard as a blogger not to have a crush on sites like this one and Popehat.

I noticed that Techdirt has Adsense enabled. As a blogger, yeah, I need to look at it like a business if I want to make real money, but I’m still not sure if I want them to stay as hobbies or not, and just a couple clicks to enable Adsense and Amazon Affiliates make them a very viable hobby.

Does this reluctance towards all ads mean that even small blogs will have be run like a business? As a hobby, it’s allowed me to put all my efforts into creating badass content.

There are many bloggers like me who earn a good living in a professional career and aren’t looking to make a career of blogging, but still still wouldn’t turn away a little something-something for their troubles. Adsense is very convenient for that.

I’m all for innovative business models, i.e. natural selection, but someday when all the ads are gone, I think we’ll find out that some good content went with them. Of course most of what passes for web “content” these days are bait-click banner ad farms.

“Recommended for you, by advertising executives with a financial stake in what they recommend…”

Anonymous Coward says:

Native advertising

At present, the display ads on the site are promoting the upcoming season of The Block NZ and other MediaWorks assets (there’s also an ad for the movie Everest). Cross promotion is a big part of its remit, he says, but display advertising is not the main focus. Instead, he says it will be concentrating on native advertising and integrating brands into Scout TV.

He says this is the first time MediaWorks has really done native advertising properly. Its integration team has plenty of experience working brands into TV shows, although he says there are often restrictions with licensed formats like The Block. And its radio arm does it every day, he says, and has been doing it for years. So it’s not a huge stretch to bring that discipline online and “work with brands that want to tell their story” in a way that makes sense to Scout’s audience.

Anonymous Coward says:

Reason I'm using an adblocker.

I used to not run an ad blocker because I do understand that some blogs and websites are supported via ads. However, there was a technical blog that I was reading and they had an video ad. What that ad did was scroll my browser window to put the video dead center and then turn on the video and sound. I clicked on the stop button for that ad and spent the 20 seconds or so to scroll back to where I was and find my place so I could resume reading. And of course, a few seconds later, the damn ad once again activated and scrolled my window to the video again. After this happened a few times, I got fed up and installed an ad blocker. Haven’t looked back since.

Mark Wing (user link) says:

Windows 10 has started down the slippery slope of bypassing HOSTS for its own purposes. Which sucks because having the last say of what your computer can connect to gives you a little bit of power as a user. No software or anything fancy–HOSTS is just a text file.

But Windows 10 is a decent operating system other than Cortana watching you in your underwear and reporting it back to Microsoft. I’ve been thinking about building my own hardware firewall with an old computer and some flavor of Linux. Or two Raspberry Pies hooked together.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have no sympathy for the advertising world. They have attempted to invade every nook and cranny to get to the eyeballs. Do not track died because advertising companies would not agree and purposely sabotaged the committee.

I do not agree to be tracked every place my eyeballs go. I do not agree to give up my bandwidth to be served ads I don’t want. I do not agree to receive malware. I do not agree when I get malware it is my problem to cure but yet advertisers will not clean up their act and want to demand we all recieve ads. I do not agree to a slower web surfing experience while over extended datamining servers demand you wait in line at the bottle neck to be counted first. I do not agree to seeing pop ups, pop unders, nor pages hidden by some silly css BS demanding you take this survey or that whatever before seeing the content. Nor do I agree that flash is necessary to see a page or javascript has to be enabled in order to read your browser header before you can see the page. Nor do I agree agree that advertising is so important that it should take over the whole page rather than the content that brought me there.

Attempt to do any of these things and I will take it into my own hands to deal with it since apparently advertisers and website masters can not hold it in check. Even here you are deluged with requests for data hidden in the background. Data I might add that is either denied or falsely given since I was never asked if I wanted to participate, if I was willing to give up my data, or whether my privacy was important to me.

This has been brought on by the behavior of advertisers. The claim the web will suffer, is a red herring. It already suffers from an excess of poorly thought out and poorly presented ads. Everyone and their brother is saying enough of this BS and that is why ad blockers are popular and getting more so.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Sites need money to stay up, and often that comes from ads, I get that.


Until all the ad services start policing the ads that they offer, cutting down annoying video/audio ads and more importantly malware infested ads, so running without an ad-blocker installed isn’t risking your computer, AdBlock stays up. I’m not going to risk my computer so a given site can get at most a couple of pennies from me seeing ads.

toyotabedzrock (profile) says:

The real problem is that the majority of the CPU time is spent running script for 10 different tracking firms then 10 different ad distribution firms layer on and then my browser freezes or crashes. And now that flash is gone the new animated ads can run on mobile devices causing more crashes.

Can’t they just unify around a single standard and distribute my info from their own servers??? I don’t really mind as long as they allow me to browse!

Mark Wing (user link) says:

Some media sites and bloggers get bent out of shape about ad blocking. I don’t buy that it’s stealing, or that all the content is going to disappear, or even that it’s necessarily a bad thing. The sky isn’t falling. It is what it is.

So, nobody can pin their failure to survive on me just because I installed an app or put a text file in a directory. No amount of repetition, FUD or semantic word jousting will make that the truth.

As a blogger, it makes me a sad panda. But as a software engineer and security enthusiast, you reduce your attack surface when you HOSTS file that shit. That’s just the reality of the Internet. The web is seedy and dangerous, and you can only do what you can do. And one of the things you can do is stop ads before they get to your browser.

So it’s all the same to me. My blogs are a labor of love. If you won’t look at the ads on your favorite blog, at least click the affiliate text links on a product review or buy stuff like t-shirts for blogs that sell them. Definitely don’t forget to reward the ones that are keeping it real, because not many are.

Violynne (profile) says:

*cracks knuckles. Time to dig in!

This podcast was a bit disappointing because many of the elements I had hoped would be discussed weren’t even addressed. Instead, it was the same story we’ve heard Techdirt say before: make better ads and people won’t skip them.

I disagree with this position.

I’m glad the podcast brought up the Old Spice ads, because this is pretty much the problem with advertising something “Good”: it leads to nothing.

Sure, Old Spice would be more than happy to confirm sales went up since the ads were rolled out, but have we heard anything since? Also, didn’t those coupons have more of an impact than the ads (for me they did, as I’ve always used Old Spice deodorant and those coupons were insanely awesome to the point I can’t believe they profited from people using them).

No one is talking about Old Spice anymore. The ad may have worked for the short term, but it’s highly unlikely it worked to the benefit of the company, Proctor and Gamble. Yep, looks like it’s right back to being that product dad used to use.

Today’s advertising is all about trying to recapture the captive audience days of television. The entire intent is to scream “LOOK AT ME!”. For those who do, the issue isn’t big.

It’s for those who don’t that get screwed.

Anyone with young kids will be familiar with “Look what I did.” and then proceed not to look at what the kid did. It’s an inundation of “Look! Look! Look!” until they’re either told to shut up or the look is granted. It doesn’t matter what the hell you’re doing and that is the problem with advertising, even if it’s great advertising.

The notion of content=ad or ad=content isn’t disputed. It’s how one affects the other that becomes the problem. No one wants to be interrupted while they’re trying to do something and that’s what ads do. They annoy because they interrupt.

Advertisers know these ads are annoying but continue to do so because, eventually, they’ll burn that ad into your head.

Don’t believe me? Quick, what’s the name of the girl who shills Progressive auto insurance? That’s right, her name is Flo.

Did you know her name has never been said in the commercials? So how did you know it? Precisely. The ads are so numerous and intentionally annoying that you know her name because you read the nameplate on her shirt given you’ve seen the ad so many times, what’s left to pay attention to?

I don’t have a problem with the ad itself. It’s the frequency. Remember when commercial breaks on TV were 2 minutes long and you actually had to really go to the bathroom quickly before the show returned? Now you can bake a cake, pay off a car loan, fly to Venus and back, have sex with your significant other, and still have time left over before the show comes back on.

There’s no way in hell having 4-6 minutes of “great content” is going to win anyone over. People still talk about that Apple ad shown in the Superbowl as if this monumental campaign did wonders. It didn’t do squat other than get people to talk about the ad, not the company nor whatever product it was trying to shill. Anyone remember what it was? Yeah, didn’t think so.

AdBlock’s prominence has nothing to do with people just saying “no” to ads. The significant number of users is to curtail ads because businesses keep pushing the limits with them, forcing visitors’ hands.

Take Ars Technica, for example. Since being bought out by Conde Nasty (deliberate misspelling), the ads have been both horrifying and downright insulting to the core audience, which isn’t going to grow based on the site’s content.

Ars has tried blocking their entire site when Adblock is used to popping up annoying messages. What Ars fails to realize is that it’s nothing more than a news aggregator site and that’s not worth a subscription fee nor is it worth dealing with Porsche ads which literally took over 1/3 of the visible web space. Seriously, what moron thought the majority of its readers can afford a Porsche or an over-priced watch?

Very few places get my money because content is literally king to me. Do a good job, you get rewarded financially. Throw out ads on a service I’m paying for and well, you’ll see me go to great lengths to avoid paying full price, such as XBox Live (wait for the 50% off sale).

I will say Techdirt is the only place that rule isn’t enforced because it’s not a news aggregator. It pretty much takes a story and tells its readers why the story has some seriously stupid players.

Wait. I should put the above in past tense, because the plan I used to sign up to is no longer available. What happened to the $50/yr Water Cooler + Chat offering? Even I draw the line at $15/mo for the option of people reading my opinions. Now I don’t have either.

Okay, best stop here. This could easily turn into a book, and well, we have better things to do.

We’ll pick this up on the next podcast discussing ads. Or is it content? 😉

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Wait. I should put the above in past tense, because the plan I used to sign up to is no longer available. What happened to the $50/yr Water Cooler + Chat offering? Even I draw the line at $15/mo for the option of people reading my opinions. Now I don’t have either.

It’s still there. Hasn’t changed, hasn’t moved. We haven’t changed anything in the store in a long time…

@b (user link) says:

Easier DONE than said

These TD podcasts are great at seeding enticing questions, even when not offering fresh conclusions.

Newspapers, hobby bloggers, and surfers are all caught up in this Advert arms race.

We have no time to learn (legitimately, scientifically, psychologically) how best to brainwash randoms so they start giving us coin.

Let’s please now turn The Problem on its head….

Game theory; Don’t treat me like an ass.
Watch each IP Address for repeat visitors.
Are you going to carrot my donkeys?
Or whip my horses? (Make me defend them!)

Jingle my bells!
Stop ramming your repeat messaging down my ISP.

Chat me up; “Do u come here often?”
Reward me for my eyeballs / comments.

I want to unlock the ability to;
– hide advertising if I already pay u
– cool features to read/ comment better
– give u my email address for more content
– be able to suggest ways to make TD $$$$$

I think TD already learned this lesson.
User “TOG” is a commenter-cum-contributer.

I want to see TD leveling up.
I believe tech blogs can GAMIFY their site

Place and love

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