Adblock Developer: An Approach to Fair Ad Blocking

As we happened to be talking about advertisements on OSNews yesterday, and the use of Adblock, I stumbled upon a blog entry by Adblock Plus’ developer, who is trying to improve Adblock in such a way that it is less harmful to webmasters. His suggestion is surely intriguing, but will it fly wth Adblock users?

Wladimir Palant realises that websites need money to run. “As I stated many times before, my goal with Adblock Plus isn’t to destroy the advertising industry,” he explains, “In the end, the Internet does need money to run and ads are still the most universal way to distribute that money.” The problem, however, is that ads tend to be too annoying and in-your-face, and we all know that to be true for a lot of websites (sadly).

The goal, then, of Adblock Plus is not to make the entire internet advertisement free, but to discourage webmasters from using obnoxious and flashy ads (especially those with audio and video). Adblock is supposed to do this by allowing its users to block annoying ads, which would then encourage webmasters to make use of unobtrusive ads.

According to Palant, however, Adblock isn’t reaching that goal. “While users can theoretically choose not to block ads on some sites, most users simply install Adblock Plus, choose a filter subscription (which will block all ads without exceptions) and forget about Adblock Plus,” Palant writes on his blog, “Currently only a tiny minority of users has Adblock Plus installed (somewhere around 5% of Firefox users) but the current trend discriminates webmasters in favor of users instead of restoring the balance.”

He has an idea to make Adblock Plus reach its intended goal more efficiently, without discriminating webmasters. He proposes a meta tag which webmasters can put on their websites; Adblock Plus will pick it up, and asks users: do you want to disable ads on this site? The notification will come with a preview button so you can see the site with Adblock disabled.

Palant indicated that a few requirements need to be met for this to work:

  • The user should have the final decision. If we allow webmasters to specify which ads the user should view or whether users with Adblock Plus should be allowed to visit their sites, they will try to maximize their profits – and very soon users will be confronted with intrusive ads everywhere or locked out of all sites. At which point somebody will fork Adblock Plus to “make it work again” and we are back at square one. On the other hand, in my experience most users don’t want to deny webmasters their income – as long as it doesn’t disturb their browsing too much.
  • Adblock Plus shouldn’t require the user to make decisions all the time. Most users hate making decisions, especially when there are other things needing their attention. You should ask for as few decisions as possible, rest of the time things should “just work”.
  • When the user is asked to make a decision, all the necessary information needs to be supplied to make this an easy decision.
  • Reverting the choice should be easy as well and the user needs to be reassured about that.

In addition, this feature of Adblock Plus can of course be turned off completely, so you can continue using Adblock Plus in the same way you are using it now. Reverting a decision will also be easy.

Right now, this is all just a proposal from the Adblock Plus developer, but it does sound interesting. The problem, however, that I see is that if this becomes a standard feature, turned on by default, many users will simply move on to another ad blocking extension.

I personally don’t use any ad blockers – not because of my position at OSNews, but simply because I don’t care (except for the audio/video ones). For OSNews, I have to visit the most horrendous websites in the world to get you the news, but for some reason, I’m never really put off by obnoxious advertising. Sure, I’d like them to go away, but I guess I’m too much of a realist to think that me using ad block will do anything to change that.


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