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Will Browsers Ship With Ad Blockers?

August 7th, 2009 · 22 Comments · Uncategorized

A while ago, I wrote a post entitled “Think Evil” in which I mused that:

A few years ago, when it became clear that Microsoft was losing the search wars to Google–but when they hadn’t lost much browser market share to Firefox–I thought they should have used a scorched earth strategy of including an ad-blocker in Internet Explorer. The ad blocker would be on by default and would block all ads, including sponsored links from search engines. Actually, I can’t bring myself to consider this particular approach evil–from my perspective, the means would justify the end.

I guess I’m not the only person with such musings. In a post with the descriptive (if uncreative) title “In five years all browsers will block internet advertisements by default“, Orin Thomas argues:

People have become conditioned to accessing content for free on the Internet and people also don’t want to see advertisements on the Internet. At some point in the not too distant future, Ad blocking will become a necessary browser feature like Tabs are today. Any browser that does not include the feature will suffer a dramatic downturn in market share as people move to platforms that “block those darn advertisements”. Within five years, all browsers will block advertisements by default because, in the end, it is a feature that most people want.

I’d like to believe that he’s right, but I’m pretty sure I made similar claims at least five years ago, and I’m not aware of even a niche browser that ships with a built-in ad blocker.

I’m curious what readers think. Is it a matter of time before we see another arms race, like we had a few years ago over pop-up ads? Or, as one of the commenters responded to Thomas , is it just a matter of equilibrium, where advertisers produce ads that users don’t want to block?

Indeed, are we already at that equilibrium? Is the lack of traction for easily available ad blockers a sign that people don’t mind ads, and that the ad-supported ecosystem can easily afford to ignore outliers like me who religiously use Adblock Plus and CustomizeGoogle to block all ads?

22 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jeremy Kriegel // Aug 7, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    The better advertisers get at showing me things I want, the more tolerant I’ll become of their efforts.

  • 2 Daniel Tunkelang // Aug 7, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    That’s certainly a win-win. I guess I take it further–I’ll pay for useful information, at least if I can’t get it for free. And I’ll always be skeptical of information pushed at me for free be people who stand to gain from my consuming it. I know it’s not a zero-sum game, but the asymmetry of investment leads me to infer a corresponding asymmetry of return.

  • 3 jeremy // Aug 7, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    But Jeremy K., isn’t it also the case that the better search engines get at finding (showing you) the things that you want, the less you need to even look at ads?

    If so, then ad blocking might actually spur more innovation in the search arena.

  • 4 Daniel Tunkelang // Aug 7, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Uh oh, it’s a battle of the Jeremies! :-)

  • 5 Jeremy Kriegel // Aug 7, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    I think the better results will depend on who has more information about me (and people like me) to drive the recommendations. My trusted vendor, with whom I have purchase history and have given a certain amount of personal information, will have plenty of data on me and similar customers.

    OTOH, Google has 1.gGB of my email…

    I think one of the desires to block ads has as much to do with annoyance than anything else. As noted here (http://bit.ly/dL3ad) many online ads are just over-the-top annoying! How can you not want to get those out of your face?

    What about the entertaining ads? Have you ever stopped your DVR mid-FF because something seemed interesting? I stop for all Apple ads, because I want to see what iPhone apps they’re spotlighting. It’s useful content to me.

    I sometimes use ads to my advantage. If I’m having trouble finding what I’m looking for on Google, I’ll go to the ads. At least those people paid to be associated with the concept I’m interested in. If I can’t find what I want from the ‘natural’ results, I’ll try the ads.

    This is all just my experience. I don’t pretend to infer that it is more broadly applicable.

  • 6 Daniel Tunkelang // Aug 7, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    I block all unsolicited ads, but I do go out of my way to watch funny ads. Indeed, I often find them on YouTube by searching for ads and retrieving them in my unsponsored results.

    I suspect I’ll get at least one of you to agree that truly successful ads as part of the search experience would inspire people to opt in to ads. In contrast, today’s state of affairs is that a few people like me opt out (probably in violation of unenforceable and legally questionable terms of service), while most of the rest don’t care. And just enough people actually click on the ads to feeds armies of Googlers, Yahoos, and Bingers.

  • 7 jeremy // Aug 7, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Uh oh, it’s a battle of the Jeremies

    Daniel, I think the technical term for it is a “jeremiad“. Look it up. Seriously.

  • 8 Daniel Tunkelang // Aug 7, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Did you click through the link in the comment? Or do you just prefer Webster to Wikipedia?

  • 9 jeremy // Aug 7, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    D’oh, I didn’t click through your link. Sorry!

  • 10 jeremy // Aug 7, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    I think the better results will depend on who has more information about me (and people like me) to drive the recommendations. My trusted vendor, with whom I have purchase history and have given a certain amount of personal information, will have plenty of data on me and similar customers.

    What you say is orthogonal to my point. If your trusted search engine has more information about you, then it will do a better job in the organic results of finding the information you need. And if it does this, then you still won’t need to look at the ads.

    In fact, if you block ads altogether, then in order for the search engine to do an even better job of satisfying you, so that you will keep using their engine, they will *have* to get better in the organic results. Again, blocking ads should spur even more innovation, if they want to keep your traffic.

    What about the entertaining ads? Have you ever stopped your DVR mid-FF because something seemed interesting? I stop for all Apple ads, because I want to see what iPhone apps they’re spotlighting. It’s useful content to me.

    Yes, I have stopped my Tivo mid-FF to watch those “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials. They’re entertaining, sure. But they’re not informative. They’re not relevant to any information need that I have. I like to watch them, but have I bought Dos Equis beer as a result? No. Has my increase in beer consumption of any kind, whether from Dos Equis or any other substitution brand, increased? No.

    So the ad entertained, nothing more. It wasn’t what I was actually seeking.

    I suspect I’ll get at least one of you to agree that truly successful ads as part of the search experience would inspire people to opt in to ads.

    I would be inspired if a search engine company ever took this approach. Made it an HCI issue, where you could express your information need in terms of whether or not commercial results were desired, or non-commercial results.

    It is a relevance mistake to always be ready to show both.

  • 11 jeremy // Aug 7, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Substitute “make it an HCI issue” for “made it an HCI issue, above.

  • 12 Jeremy Kriegel // Aug 7, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    If your trusted search engine has more information about you, then it will do a better job in the organic results of finding the information you need.

    Like I said, Google has loads of information about me. Unfortunately, that info is not (yet) useful when I look for books on Amazon.

    It’s really a shame that Matchmine didn’t last. They let you carry your prefs and history with you, giving access as you saw fit. A bit ahead of its time, methinks.

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/10/27/matchmine-throws-in-the-towel/

  • 13 jeremy // Aug 7, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    There is another company forming that does exactly this. I can’t remember what it’s called, but I think the person behind it is.. Alex Iskold? I just attended a presentation from him a few months ago. If I can find the name again, I’ll pass it along.

  • 14 anonymous // Aug 10, 2009 at 6:10 am

    On a side note: Afaik Opera has a built-in ad blocker, but don’t publish predefined filter lists. There are community-driven lists, however…

  • 15 dave fauth // Aug 10, 2009 at 7:59 am

    Alex Iskold’s product is called Glue. GetGlue.com

  • 16 Daniel Tunkelang // Aug 10, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Anonymous, I suspect the number of people who install Opera is less then the number of Firefox users who install AdBlock Plus. And neither of these addresses the textual ads that CustomizeGoogle blocks.

    Dave, great to see hear your virtual voice–long time! I’ve heard lots of buzz about AdaptiveBlue, but never met any users. Now I’m actually curious.

  • 17 dave fauth // Aug 11, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    I looked at Glue. Didn’t understand it and haven’t looked at it since.

  • 18 kevotheclone // Aug 11, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    I’m a little late to the party as I took a vacation from IT last week.

    Just thought I’d let you know that I subscribe to your feed in Awasu. Awasu has blocked ads in feed content since Dec 2007: http://www.awasu.com/weblog/?p=413
    Here’s some nice screenshots:
    http://www.awasu.com/weblog/?p=442

  • 19 Daniel Tunkelang // Aug 11, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    Yeah, I don’t quite get Glue either. I have a sort of portable translation personalization rattling around in my head, but it’s not quite coherent yet. Will share more when it congeals.

    As for Awasu, that does sound nice. I use Google Reader myself, which doesn’t seem to have ads–but it may be that one of my Firefox add-ons is removing the ads downstream.

  • 20 jeremy // Aug 11, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Alex did mention (for real) in that talk that I attended a few weeks ago that Glue wasn’t profitable yet.

    So I guess you could say that Glue isn’t solvent?

    (bah-dump-bump)

  • 21 kevotheclone // Aug 12, 2009 at 2:23 am

    ” I use Google Reader myself, which doesn’t seem to have ads”

    You so do I. Google Reader sync’d with Awasu; the best of both worlds.

  • 22 Udorse: Give Product Placement a Chance | The Noisy Channel // Sep 15, 2009 at 10:39 am

    [...] uncertain whether to be awed or horrified by this simple concept. Indeed, given my penchant for using ad blockers, you might think I’d be ideologically against product [...]

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