Support the free web

Last night I was talking with my wife about my day. Without sounding too gushy, I really appreciate that she is interested in listening to me talk about technical details (as long as she doesn’t have one of our 3 little shadows following her around). We’ll often end up on a long, detailed tangent because she doesn’t just nod and smile, she asks me questions to understand more of what I’m talking about.

I not saying this to brag (maybe just a little), but rather because I have no idea how we got to talking about Ad Blockers. It wasn’t something that came up as part of my day yesterday. But my poor wife, who was recovering from the flu and had a bit of a headache already, got an earful when the topic came up. She eventually had to bow out of the conversation because she was only really up for something along the lines of conversational quickie.

Anyhow, since I didn’t get a chance to finish I was left feeling unfulfilled and figured I should go to the web and get the rest of it off my chest.

First off, as a disclaimer, I got my start at a startup where advertising is what paid for our content. We built a successful website, didn’t charge our users a dime, got a lot of traffic and eventually it paid off and we all got to go home with a little extra in our pockets for our effort. Nobody got to retire and move to a private island or buy a yacht and sail around the world. As far as I know everyone but me is still working for the same company.

I moved on to further my career and since then have tried my hand at blogging where I think I do a fair job. I started my blog as a bit of a professional portfolio. Since I don’t have any formal education, I wanted something I could put on my resume that would make me stand out.

About a year ago I started putting ads on my blog. But I make pennies at it. Not worth the money at all at this point. Maybe someday I can a subscription base like one of those rock star bloggers everybody follows (hey, I can dream).  But I put ads on my blog because in a couple of years I can cash in my first $100 from AdSense and maybe buy a 2TB hard drive and put all my movies on a media center pc so I can stop worrying about my kids scratching up the DVDs all the time. At the rate I’m going now I should be there in 4 more years :).

Show your support

Now the reason for my post. I support free content on the web. As a web developer I know maintaining a web site takes a lot of work and often personal time. But I’m also cheap and I like things free and I don’t pay for website subscriptions. If there’s premium content, I can live with out. If you wanna charge me, I’ll go somewhere else because I know I can. This is currently the status quo and I’m happy with it.

But because I know that the content I use wasn’t free to create, I click ads on the sites I like. Especially those sites which I know still don’t get the traffic to pull in advertisers on their own. I’ll also tell others I know about sites I think are great so they can get more traffic.

But most of all I will never block their ads.

It’s like stealing

I know this may sound harsh, but it’s the best description of how I feel about it. And when you think about my background it makes sense. For the big guys it makes no difference, mostly because in the larger ecosystem of things most people don’t do it. In reality it doesn’t affect me much either because it is all relative. Since I don’t get that much traffic it isn’t like blocking my ads is going to keep food off my table.

It is the principal of the thing for me. The more traffic a web site gets the more the site can charge advertisers per page. But here’s the thing, let’s look at what happens for both large and small sites when you block their ads.

The big guys

Ads are sold specifically for the site. Advertisers pay a rate based on the traffic expected within a specific time period. You block an ad in this scenario and the advertiser doesn’t pay for your visit – so what’s the big deal? In reality, nothing. But the advertiser has paid with the expectation of delivering a specific number of ads in an agreed upon time frame. If the quota isn’t met then the advertiser won’t buy with the site again. But that advertiser won’t be the only loss for the site. At this level advertisers go thru ad agencies, who won’t continue to work with the web site if the problem continues.

The little guys

Ads are placed on the site thru an ad network. Click thru rate is often low and the site gets money for the number of ad units delivered (views) at a rate of pennies per thousand. At this rate, no one is using this money to pay their bills, but with ad blockers in use the money is even worse.

Don’t punish the many because of the few

Ads are annoying, some are really bad. I really don’t appreciate seeing ads that want to push the envelope. I’m not just talking about indecency (you may not mind - I don’t judge) but there are some really stupid ones out there too. And then there are web sites that are so littered with ads that you can’t find the content. Or you are inundated with pop-ups/pop-unders. These are the abusers.

Because of these abusers, I support popup blockers and if I find a site like this I won’t go back. It’s a real turn-off and these abusers are the reason ad blockers were developed (in my opinion).

Just don’t visit these sites – they are never worth it anyway. If they don’t listen to users who complain, then they never will. But most good sites will listen. I get very view pop-up blocker notifications anymore. Most of the time it is for a valid (albeit poorly designed) application feature in an attempt to mimic a modal dialog. Interstitial ads are a bit annoying, but as long as I only get one per session I can live with it.

It ain’t the end of the world

The sky isn’t falling and my name isn’t Chicken Little (and hasn’t been for years now). For this to become a problem and really affect the economics of the web would require a huge change in the number of users installing ad blocking software. But why wait to speak up until it’s too late.

The more people that use ad blockers, the less free content there will be on the web. The minute anyone can build enough traffic and get people using their sites is the moment they will start charging for that content (experts-exchange anyone?).

The noble roots of the web are grounded in the free exchange of information. But don’t kid yourself, if people can’t feel like they are getting something back they won’t continue to do it. It may not always be money for everyone - but let’s face it, do you think there would be as much content on the web if there were no money to be made in it?

Support the free web, don’t block our ads.