Ad Blockers: Making the Internet Better

I just stumbled upon this opinion column in Smashing Magazine, which claims that Web Designers should not use ad blockers. Along with a bunch of lousy arguments, the author fails to account for my two biggest reasons for using ad blocking:

  • Resource Consumption (time and bandwidth) – it makes the web faster
  • Ads Mostly Suck (and are equally ineffective)

First, let me say that rather than adding adblocker software or plugins, I use Dan Pollock’s host file: Instead of blocking ads directly, it redirects ad server domain resolution to localhost. It’s fast, it’s free, and it doesn’t take up resources running any extra processes.

A note from his file explains a bit of why it’s useful:

# Use this file to prevent your computer from connecting to selected
# internet hosts. This is an easy and effective way to protect you from 
# many types of spyware, reduces bandwidth use, blocks certain pop-up 
# traps, prevents user tracking by way of "web bugs" embedded in spam,
# provides partial protection to IE from certain web-based exploits and
# blocks most advertising you would otherwise be subjected to on the internet.

I started using this when I moved to Germany and ended up with a mobile internet connection for my main line, which is dirt slow. I couldn’t afford to waste my 5GB/month capped usage on ads–or slow down my general use with waiting for all the analytics and ad servers to resolve and load (yes, I block analytics too but that’s another post with a whole new topic).

But now that I’ve been using the hosts file for a while I’ve started to think that this is like when I abandoned television in favor of the internet for viewing videos. I got sick of the commercials. So much that I joined a revolution in a new medium that allowed me more fine-grained control over what I consume and how I consume it. I can’t watch TV anymore–the commercials are insufferable.

Yes, I’m a Web Developer, and yes, I use ad services on my sites–and I feel genuinely icky about it (but it pays for my hosting and gives me pet-project freedom). So, please, block my ads. If you don’t want them, I don’t want you to have to suffer them. You probably aren’t the person who makes me money on my ads anyway.

But here’s the kicker: When I find that there’s an ad company I like, who does things right, I allow them through my hosts file filter. Sadly, I haven’t found a decent service for sporting ads that don’t suck on my websites.

Commercials need to be better. Ads need to be better. Ad services need to be a hell of a lot better. A few ad agencies have caught onto this, creating viral advertising that people actually WANT to consume. I’m sure you remember the Sonia Bravia superball video. People didn’t block it. Instead it got passed around.

Here’s another ad-woth-watching by Nokia that gives me goose bumps, which I found at the end of a talk:

In closing, if you don’t want people to block your ads, make them not only worth consuming but sharing, make the ad servers fast and don’t put them in the way of what users actually want to consume. Make your ads into content that is served with the other content users want–so they can’t block it without blocking everything else they came to see (all of it hopefully as good as the rest). If your ads are the content that consumers want, consumers won’t worry about blocking it. Besides, if consumers want to block your ads, face it, your ads suck.