August 11, 2014

Adblock & Collective Punishment

In an interview for The Next Web, the guy behind @evleaks and serial tech leaker Evan Blass explains the motives behind his decision to retire:

I also started a website, and it’s actually done somewhat respectably, but with all the leaks going out on Twitter anyway, people have little incentive to visit, and most of my tech-savvy-heavy audience seem to be pretty heavy ad-block users, as well. It all adds up to an unsustainable living, and with a progressively worsening disease [Ed; Blass was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis], I need to make sure I can prepare myself better for the future, financially.

I think the fact evleaks” was born on Twitter and continued to be Twitter-first even after the website went live was the dominant factor in Blass’s (financial) failure. That’s a discussion for a different day though.

Adblock is one of the first extensions I install upon getting a new computer. And I’m not alone: A report published by PageFair last August showed the percentage of visitors using ad-blocking tools to be as high as 23% and growing at 43% a year. The numbers for technology websites should be even higher.

I’ve been contemplating this for a while, and I should have done it from day one, but from now on I will use Adblock in blacklist” mode: This means the extension will be enabled only for specific domains that I add. For me these are mainly news websites: The local ones here are plagued with ads.

The truth is, most of the websites I enjoy reading are written by independent individuals. A non-negligible number of them are relatively unestablished and rely on advertising to offset some of the expenses or justify their time commitment. Coincidentally, none of them use the sketchy strategies of big, traditional websites, and most of them have only one little ad placed in unintrusive areas. I’ve previously whitelisted a handful of websites, but I don’t want to rely on my memory anymore. If I’m annoyed enough, I’ll bear the 30 seconds it takes to add a website to the blacklist.

Yes, the web is full of bad practices and Adblock successfully deals with some of them, but to use it indiscriminately is to automatically punish the minority of honest publishers. And guess who’s more likely to close shop because of such sanctions? I mean, not everyone are as venerable as The New York Times to get on this new big thing called native advertising.

When I hear people randomly saying I don’t want any ads” as some sort of a blanket policy, I wonder whether they would be willing to sustain alternative models.

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