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Advertising powers the web. Is that a good thing, a bad thing, or just an annoyance?

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This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.

One of Firefox's most popular extensions is called "Adblock". It does exactly what it's name implies: blocks ads from appearing on web sites when you visit them.

As you might expect, I have mixed feelings.

I'm certainly all for maintaining control of your own computer, and there's a certain righteousness in saying "it's my computer and I didn't ask for ads".

Unfortunately for many sites, ads are part of the implied contract. You get to view content for free in exchange for advertising being presented along side.

Without web advertising many sites like Ask Leo! simply wouldn't exist. The fact is that it costs time and money to run a website of any popularity, and advertising foots the bill.

The usual alternatives mentioned include donations or subscriptions of some sort or even product sales of some sort. There problem is that these are really just other forms of advertising, and rarely raise enough money to actually cover costs.

In my opinion, blocking ads is in many ways a slap in the face of people who are trying to provide useful information on the web.

Now, I totally understand that there are web sites what go way overboard in the quantity and obnoxiousness of the ads that they present. Garish ads, popups, pop-unders, and the like often border on the horrific. Sites that use this type of advertising are probably the leading cause of ad blockers being so popular. In my opinion they're not only doing themselves a grave disservice, but they're also hurting the rest of the web ecosystem at the same time.

My approach to advertising has always been to try and keep it somewhat low key and not overwhelm my visitors with it. Programs like Google's Adsense, which provides ads that are actually targeted to the content on the page, occasionally even become a true value-add as a visitor learns of a product that's related to the very question he or she has.

The down side of the low-key approach, though, is that occasionally people mistake the ads for recommendations on my part, which of course they are not. If I recommend something, it'll say so in my content. On rare occasions you'll see my name in an ad that is a formal recommendation.

Advertising can certainly be abused and seriously over-used by web sites. But if you find a website's advertising that annoying, the right solution in my opinion is to vote with your feet - leave and don't come back.

If enough people did that instead of blocking ads, the drop in traffic might give the website owners pause to rethink their strategy.

I'd love to hear what you think. What alternatives would you suggest for a web site to stay in business if not advertising?

Visit askleo.info and enter 11853 in the go to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me a comment. While you're there, browse over 1,200 technical questions and answers on the site.

Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.info.

Article C3156 - September 22, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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4 Comments
Mary
September 23, 2007 5:13 AM

I'm old enough to remember a long ago medium called a newspaper. Every page seemed to be filled with ads. Granted, they didn't flash, make noise, install spyware, etc. But computer users can use the same technique we old-timers used to use... ignore the ads you have no interest in or read the ads if you do have an interest. And if you're really interested, you could even respond. Simple and effective. :-)

Ronny
September 23, 2007 1:55 PM

I understand your point Leo but do you skip the commercials when you watch your DVR or go to the bathroom during a live viewing when the commercials come on? If so, you are really skipping the same ads you complain about your readers skipping.

Leo A. Notenboom
September 24, 2007 9:31 PM

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I do fast forward though commercials. Just like I don't read all the ads in a
newspaper, or on all the web sites I visit. (Though I have *stopped* fast
forwarding to see an ad that looks interesting.)

What I *don't* do is create a video tape (or other version) of a TV show where
the ads never appear.

The TV/commercial comparision isn't perfect, but I consider fast forwarding the
same as seeing but not reading. Blocking the ads is more like removing them
from the original material so you don't even have to fast forward.

Leo

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Terry Coon
September 29, 2007 9:27 AM

I gave up commercial radio and TV 30 yrs ago.
I am willing to pay for newsletter subscriptions such as Leo's though I am on fixed income.
I cannot tolerate advertising.

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