A World of Endless Advertisements

While reading Larry O'Brien's latest column in SD Times, I couldn't help noticing that the article text was dwarfed by the advertisements.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/01/a-world-of-endless-advertisements.html

the comparison to TV is wrong. TV is balkanizing, thanks to the FCC (but that’s another episode). pay “channels” are providing content; the ad based “networks” are providing non-content. the (rant start) right wing politicians are seeing to it that balkanization happens (rant end) wherever possible. Joel Spolsky, who is not a trained economist but does know a thing or two about selling sofware, recently explained it awfully well for a civilian: given the opportunity, capitalists will use market segmentation to extract full price along the demand curve.


In addition to AdBlock, you can edit your HOSTS file to block text ads. This works on any web browser, and is quite effective against the pervasive Google ads (although it cannot block Flash).

See also:
An example – http://everythingisnt.com/hosts.html
Sample HOSTS file – http://everythingisnt.com/hosts

Thanks to this trick, I have not seen a single ad for a long time.

I think the basic problem is that economically speaking, most Internet content is worthless. I emphatically do not mean that in an elitist way, the tired old “blogs are worthless” garbage, because for one thing I also include all commercial content as well. What I mean is that almost all internet content is freely substitutable with other things. Sure, nobody else is Jeff Atwood, but there are so many people with strong voices and interesting things to say on any and every topic that even trying to charge a penny for complete access to your entire site and ignoring all other micropayment costs would be enough to do grave damage to your audience.

Text is too easy to produce. Anybody can become good at it; major portions of our brain are hard-wired to communication. (The real miracle is how many people fail to become good at it.) The going rate of a hunk of text on the Internet is ever-so-slightly negative; that is, the provider is subsidizing it.

How can anybody monetize something of slightly negative value? Given that there are pieces of text that aren’t of slightly negative value, how are consumers going to be able to reliably detect these texts without reading them in advance? (By the time you factor the risk depreciation in to the value of a text, i.e., that I don’t know whether what I’m paying for is any good so I’m not as willing to pay as much for it as I would be otherwise, you are again not left with much value.)

The only thing that’s going to stop ad proliferation is the increasing worthlessness of ads as they continue to proliferate. They lose value, too. Already it’s a rare site that can even recover the cost of hosting with ads, forget making money.

Fortunately, I don’t really see a “problem” here; as text becomes increasingly easy to serve (bandwidth and processing costs go down), it’ll continue to be viable for people to just pay their website hosting costs. Commercial interests become trickier, and my expectation is that it will be nearly impossible to run a site based on providing people text stories and make money. We’re probably already there. You’re going to have to offer something more.

In the face of alternatives, advertising is almost the noble option. Subscriptions are difficult and although I think they will become viable again when some market consolidation occurs there will obviously those authors who wish to access the widest possible audience. Affiliate partnerships affect the objectivity (both perceived and actual) of an author because incentives are now weighed towards the paying party. At least advertising networks can provide the perception of objectivity by separating the sale of ads from the author. I do think sites should attempt to provide higher value advertisements by trending away from the shotgun approach of a third of a page’s content occupied by 10-20 different advertisements. A single high-impact advertisment free from the noise of competing advertisements must surely be more effective? Sites offering higher conversion rates for specific products should be able to command higher rates?

Well, there’s ONE other model that works…

Donations. When a company takes their current size, current growth and estimates the cost of continuing for a set amount of time and then turns around and asks the content subscribers to help IF THEY CAN, without charging… it works a lot. I’ve seen several web comics go that route successfully. It’s just a matter of having a devoted fan base that really wants your services and not cutting out the people that aren’t paying for it.

It feels an awful lot like begging, but if you’re providing a service for free, it’s more akin to setting out the tip jar rather than the beggar’s mug.

And before anyone mentions it, yes, AdBlock for Firefox is great:


as is FlashBlock:


They’re literally the first two extensions I install in Firefox, along with the web developer extension. I wish there were equivalents for these three in IE7.

Also: sorry if anyone tried to comment prior to this point today, my MySQL tables were slightly corrupted and I had to run a REPAIR TABLE on all of them. It’s part of the ongoing server problem here:


… but I think I finally have that licked.

well, you already said was i was going to say earlier this day (Adblock Plus and server problem).

Anyway, good to see that everything is running fine now.

they’ve changed their ads to be flashing animations

It’s even worse than that – the page in question has a full-motion VIDEO advertisement. Thanks to YouTube, I expect to see more and more ads go to full motion video.

Hmm… maybe the answer is a smart text browser that can extract enough layout information to render a “clean” page. Perhaps cache images offscreen and insert links in the text to quickly bring them up for articles with diagrams and such. Tricky to know what’s junk and what is content though.

Advertisement is much better than payments because it allows to influence reader’s brains. At a times, it may bring a lot more income. And I see another tendency: merging of ads and content. Just like trademark placement in Bond movies, ads will become hardly visible and tightly integrated into surrounding information. You would not be able to just block it, you would need a sentient filter to extract useful information from the stream fed to you. One more way to waste processing power and support CPU evolution :slight_smile:

I wonder if ad blockers are part of the reason for advertising becoming more and more intrusive; we all acknowledge that advertising is one of the few things, if not the only thing, that works and yet we try to stop it.

This surely causes an ‘arms race’ that leads to people trying ever harder to put advertising in front of us.

Jeff said: It’s even worse than that – the page in question has a full-motion VIDEO advertisement. Thanks to YouTube, I expect to see more and more ads go to full motion video.

And thus the balkanization: 1) only HighSpeed lines can conveniently use such pages 2) only people who have access to, care enough about surfing and can afford HS will be able to use most of the internet 3) advertisers only want people with change in their pockets, and assume that those without HS are irrelevant 4) net-neutrality becomes irrelevant once advertisers and Rich Eyes descend through this Death Spiral.

It may happen that the True Internet (before .com) will return. It may happen that the cost of energy will rise fast enough that the internet as we have seen it morph, will be too expensive (Vista capable PC, BroadBand, satellite, etc.) for all but a minority. Let them eat dialup will become the mantra of the Rich Eyes. (Yes, I’ve read the Peak Oil story, and it’s inevitable. The only issue is when . Mr. Kafka, meet Mr. Orwell.)

I wanted to see the ads version and the non-ads version next to each other so I posted the screenshots here: http://bluebones.net/2007/01/adblock-plus/

Don’t forget the NoScript plugin for Firefox. It cleans up what AdBlock misses, by making JS and Flash opt-in.

I typically allow script on my usual news sources (Google Reader, Reddit, etc.), and most content linked from there is readable without script enabled.

This not only kills annoying animations, pop-overs, and those awful ad-sponsored hyperlinks sprinkled in your content.

Most magazines make their money from the advertisements, some depend on subscriptions to make their income, and newstand sales are almost always a loss. Trade journals do this to extremes, you’ll probably see 2/3 of such a magazine be advertisements.

The excessive quantity of advertising and product placement is why I’ve quit listening to commercial radio and watching TV. If 23 minutes/hour are advertising, just what are you watching?

At the bottom of the heap are the trade press, who make most of their money from advertising and would give the magazines away for free if advertisers would let them. The average trade publication is a bunch of ads, glued together by just enough articles to make it look like a magazine. They’re so desperate for “content” that some will print your press releases almost verbatim, if you take the trouble to write them to read like articles.

Just learn to ignore the ads, just like you do when watching tv or reading a newspaper. No need to use ad blockers.

It’s probably a good thing there is no good free ad blocker for IE, If most people start to use ad blockers there will be no incentive for magazines and newspapers to post articles on the web for free and the web will be a very different place. (like pre 1994, basically only university and student homepages ).

But advertisements have electrolytes that plants crave.

I LOLed. Phil is referring to Idiocracy. It’s a true cult classic comedy. Go rent it already!