Way back when, back in the last century, back with the internet was still mostly innocent, animated GIF ads made their debut and the seed was planted for a revolutionary change in online advertising.
The first change was annoying advertising. Unlike television and radio where advertising can be entertaining, online ads are obtrusive and represent the visual clutter that prohibits a website reader to getting what they came for– to view a website. Alright, to a certain extent, a TV commercial does the same thing– it’s the pause that helps to pay for the privilege of viewing a TV show, news, or movie. Ditto for radio.
Unlike radio, television has workarounds. The DVR comes to mind; that wonderful device that records television and allows viewers to fast forward and skip over commercials. The mute button helps those who don’t have a DVR that time shifts viewing and eliminates commercial viewing altogether.
The internet is different, but even there workarounds persist. Apple’s Safari browser has a Reader Mode; those horizontal lines in the URL bar which rip out just the text you want to view and eliminate from view most of the advertising that pays for the content.
From the early days of animated GIF images internet users have been bombarded by advertising where some websites display a dozen or more advertisements of varying sizes which detract from the content a reader came to read in the first place. Worse, in recent years, the size of websites has grown ten fold thanks to dozens of tracker scripts that reside in the background and record information about you.
How much gets recorded? Check out Dave Farrington’s missive on the dangers of online tracking. We’re not being tracked as much as we are being stalked. That trend toward clutter and tracking has spawned another trend toward ad blockers; essentially a small app or script that blocks ads within a webpage.
The problem here is complex. Websites need advertising revenue to exist. Without it, they won’t. Witness MacNN’s demise earlier this year; just one among many. Across the board, advertising revenue has dropped for most websites; every year for many years. Readers dismiss ads, skip ads, ignore ads, and block ads. To combat that trend, publishers have added even more advertisements and increased the tracking scripts which help to offset lost revenue.
See the problem? It’s a downward spiral with no end in sight. More ads begets more blockers which reduces ad revenue which begets more ads.
What’s the solution?
There needs to be a better way; a win-win situation where websites, readers, and advertisers can peacefully coexist to everyone’s benefit. That scenario has yet to arrive but some are taking proper steps to move in that direction. My site, McSolo, removed ad trackers earlier this year. All of them. No cookies. No ad trackers. No tracking scripts. Instead, I opted for a single display advertisement mixed with some subtle but more effective– because there is less visual competition– text ads.
Personally, I use Ghostery to track what tracks me while I’m online, and AdBlocker Plus to block websites which abuse my sensibilities and spawn dozens of tracking ads. That also means I whitelist websites which are deserving; and that allows ads to be displayed. Still, it’s something of a game of online Whack-a-Mole.
Years ago there was talk of micro-payments; a simple and elegant way for internet users to read whatever they want but pay for what they read; perhaps a few cents at a time. That methodology seems plausible but more difficult to implement unless all websites implemented the same plan at the same time; easier said than done.
For now, I’ve taken the minimalist approach which provides nearly a win-win-win for readers, advertisers, and publisher.