One thing I have been fascinated by in recent weeks is online advertising. Now most of us, particularly Millennials having grown up constantly bombarded by advertising in some form, have pretty negative feelings towards online advertising. Whether it's an auto-playing video on a website, pop-ups or big flashing banner saying that we are the 1,000,000th visitor to the site and have won a prize. It is getting to the point now with some sites that you now have to work to find the genuine content on the page and not the ads.
Apple has now created a huge buzz around ad blocking by adding ad blocking capabilities to iOS 9. This coupled with a report by Cyphort that says that advertising malware (adverts that either open up multiple windows, reassign home pages or install unwanted toolbars) has tripled in the last year, would lead any sane person to at least consider using an ad blocker. This has even led some cellular carriers to look at blocking ads at a network level. Shine, a company that works with carriers to block ads, claims that ads can use up to 50% of a customer's data plan. So combine the nuisance of ads appearing and interrupting a user's connection with content and the potential cost linked to mobile data, it could easily be inferred that adverts are a blight on the internet that needs to be removed.
For a long time I took a cynical view that anyone who posted adverts on blogs, articles or videos was just trying to make as much money as possible. This made me steer clear on anything that had sponsored or ad attached to it, but a recent pop up on ‘Cult of Mac’ had me thinking differently.
Some websites rely on advertising to pay for their content, and worryingly, it is usually those who do impartial reviews. This leads me to begin to worry that soon all the content on the web will be backed by someone who has a vested interest in a positive outcome or linking content to making a sale. This becomes even more worrying with the growth of native advertising, advertising that is specifically designed to look like website content. This has had to be made more visible by the words ‘Ad or Sponsored by’ being attached to the content, this differentiates it from genuine site content. John Dvorak sums up native advertising nicely when he describes it in economic terms:
So this leaves us in a position where advertising is jumping out at us from all over the place which is ruining our interaction with content but in a lot of cases the advertising is funding said content. So how do we as consumers of content respond? I believe there are two simple responses.
Firstly use the power of the click! Sites can only realistically sell advertising space if they gain a lot of traffic - if you are finding that particular sites are becoming a nuisance then avoid them. Find content providers who advertise responsibly or don’t advertise on their site at all. If you find a content provider you particularly like support them, by sharing on social media or some sites allow you to donate towards their content.
One particularly good example of responsible advertising that was pointed out to me was daringfireball.net. They use an ad company called ‘The Deck’ who are particularly fussy about what ads will get shown across their network. They take this to the point that they won't advertise a company unless they have paid for and/or used their product. This ensures that ‘The Deck’ only advertises quality and appropriate products, a breath of fresh in an industry that it so often categorised by space being sold to the highest bidder not necessarily the best product.
Secondly, use an ad blocker. I personally don’t feel it is right that should you browse onto a website that is packed full of advertising that you should be inadvertently be supporting that. As the Cult of Mac pop up shows that you can support websites by whitelisting that website in your pop-up blocker - which is exactly what I did.