Online Advertising Crap

I hate the stuff. It’s an irritating visual distraction and it slows down your computer – what’s not to hate? The in-yer-faceness varies from relatively genteel ads, which point out products and services that might be useful, to screaming, spittle-flecked pop-ups that won’t take no for an answer. The issue isn’t whether an ad is good, bad, or ugly, but the fact it’s there in the first place.

I installed AdBlock Plus on my computer several years ago, and I’m used to never seeing an ad. On the rare occasions when I use an unprotected computer, I’m shocked at the visual clutter people allow on their screens. Unsurprisingly, I pay WordPress a yearly bribe to make ads go away for readers of Beautiful Railway Bridge, something that wasn’t necessary when it was hosted on Blogger.

So imagine my delight when I came across a site claiming there are now 10 million ABP users, 1 million up from the previous month. Good stuff! I thought, and read further. Turns out the Online Publishers Community, for so they claim to be, is feeling sick as a parrot about what they see as the loss of revenue. The site is offering an “Anti-ABP” plugin for WordPress users, provided by a company called dSero. It’s unclear if the “Online Publishers Community” is an invented front for dSero – I rather suspect it is.

dSero claims the Anti-ABP plugin will sneak ads into the Adsense spaces bombed out by ABP. It also claims that 6% of online ads are blocked by 30 million ABP users, taking into account Chrome and Firefox browsers, and that the loss amounts to $5.3 billion this year.

Clearly dSero is trying to create a panic. Let’s examine their assumption that blocking ads leads to loss of revenue. People who install ABP do not want to see ads – there can be no loss of revenue from those who would not have bought from you in the first place. The “loss” is simply an inefficient use of advertising resources. And capitalism is supposed to be supremely efficient, right? Somebody told me that once. If an Anti-ABP  plugin sneaks an ad past, are they likely to embrace the vile thing with open arms? No. They won’t click on it, and they will probably punish the company responsible by not buying anything else.

It seems to me that online retailers have two choices – block ABP users from sites carrying advertising (that would be the honest way) or simply accept that some of their visitors will never click on ads. The loss of goodwill produced by the former is counterproductive, while the latter increases goodwill among ABP users who might buy if the ads were presented in another form. Raging online ad-hater as I am, I do visit dedicated sites for news about products that interest me. Advertisers should suck it up and focus on better ways to sell their products.

Installing an Anti-ABP plugin comes across as a passive-agressive compromise, which fails to solve the problem, and alienates potential customers. It’s called shooting yourself in the foot.

DuckDuckGo: Dada and the Search Engine

With the upcoming changes in Google’s privacy policies, I’ve been digging around to see what they’re up to. From March 1, they will combine 60 separate privacy policies into one, amalgamating the data from all their products into a single marketing treasure trove. To Serve Man, apparently. I had posted a full YouTube episode, but the scumbags at CBS had it taken down.

Now I’m not suggesting that Google is controlled by space aliens who want to add us to their menu. Not quite. But Google does have an endless appetite for our user data, including marketing preferences and where we like to travel on the Internet. Which is very useful for targeting us with advertising crap. So if they have an integrated user profile, gleaned from every Google product you use, then the advertising crap just hit a much bigger fan.

While I like many of their products – Gmail, Google+, and Google are brilliant – there are some things up with which I will not put. So I use Adblock Plus for the advertising crap and Ghostery to block the Web’s creepy crawlies from tracking my movements.

Unfortunately, Google can still gather data about me. I can stop them from using it as advertising fodder by disabling Web History, but it’s still available for internal use, being anonymized after 18 months. They have another sneaky trick up their sleeves, though, and it’s not something Google likes to draw attention to. Did you know that they tell the website you’re going to where you’ve just come from? So do many other browsers. Google appararently stopped doing this for a while, until the outraged squawks of their advertisers prompted a U-turn.

It was only when I stumbled across DuckDuckGo that I discovered Google were doing this. DuckDuckGo (Wiki entry) doesn’t track users, and it doesn’t try to personalize the hits to what it thinks you might be looking for. I know some people like that, but to me it’s patronizing and an insult to my intelligence to think that I can’t handle challenging ideas.

So I’m using DuckDuckGo exclusively now. I love the name, which is pure Dada, and the uncorporate feel there is to this search engine. If it all goes pear-shaped, you will be first to know.

Google Chrome Kicks Ass

First of all, a disclaimer.  This is not a tech article (for that, see below), but my experience of the browser wars.  I’m a huge fan of the Guardian’s Comment Is Free pages, because their writers cover pretty much every nuance of the human condition, from a celebration of the Krankies as swingers, through quirky subjects like limericks, to solid broadsheet articles on politics, religion, and society.  All with a liberal perspective and a certain wit in the writing that’s missing from other newspapers.  Like the Independent.  Worthy, but a bit stodgy.

I’ve been commenting on this largesse for several years, using Mozilla Firefox as a browser.  Not because of a critical assessment of its capabilities, of which I’m incapable, but because it’s open source, a rebel against the corporate machine.  Then, a few months ago, the Guardian introduced a couple of much-needed improvements to CIF.  The first is a preview function, for those us with a tendency to post without first checking grammar, punctation, and spelling.  Easy to do in the heat of debate, and extremely embarrassing when you realise there’s sod all you can do about it after the event.  So far, so good.

Another brilliant innovation is the respond function, which links your comment to a specific post, putting the username and link at the top of the post.  Before that you had to put it in yourself to get a specific poster’s attention: @soandso, with the date and time of posting.  Trouble is, it didn’t work with Firefox.  Or rather, it did if I disabled Adblock Plus.

That was non-negotiable.  I hate internet advertising like poison.  It’s like being trapped in a room with a horde of obnoxious spivs, all of them trying to grab your attention at once.  If I want to buy something, I’ll go and look for it.  So I had to find a new browser, one that would allow the respond function to work and still let me block all the advertising crap.  Lest you imagine the search was methodical and logical, think again.  If I dink around long enough, something’s bound to work right.  I have very little sense, however, of what steps took me to that happy conclusion.

Safari is already installed on my MacBook, so that was the obvious alternative.  Lo and behold!  It worked with its own Adblock extension.  I was well pleased, and transferred the toolbar bookmarks to save the trouble of switching browsers when I wanted extra information for a post.  I still loved Mozilla the best, and planned to use Safari only for CIF.  And yet there was was a fly in the ointment.  A small tic or mannerism in someone you like a lot can become so irritating over time that you have to break up rather than tolerate it any more.  Just so with the Safari/CIF interaction, and it wasn’t that small of a problem even to begin with, just something I thought I could live with.

CIF would crash after a fairly short time, under an hour, although it varied from session to session.  The only remedy was to clear cookies, empty cache, and reboot Safari.  When you’re in the full flow of eloquence, this sort of speed bump is really irritating, to the point where I couldn’t stand it any more.  Time to move on.

So I gave Google Chrome a try, and it was love at first sight.  Birds twittering, butterflies fluttering by, and so many fawns underfoot they were a danger to navigation.  Chrome was fast, smooth, with its own version of Adblock purring quietly in the background and slaughtering the ads with efficiency and pleasure.  Nary a glitch in the entire process.  I was chuffed pink, and plan on moving in with all my favourite bookmarks.  Sorry, Mozilla, it just didn’t work out.

Happy ending, then.  Apparently.  But with my luck, Chrome will probably turn out to be an axe murderer.

P.S.  For a proper discussion of the relative merits of the various browsers, please  visit the site where I stole the splendid graphic from: Explorer.