Last month Adblock Plus changed its default settings. The browser extension will still block most online ads, but it will now present its 10 million users with “acceptable ads” when it finds them — banners that aren’t blinking, offensive or generally annoying. Full story at the New York Times.
From a PR perspective, the timing of this development is unfortunate, given that the organizer of the Adblocker open source community, Wladimir Palant (and his partner Till Faida), took outside investment and turned the project into a business called Eyeo last summer. Despite promises that they’re not “selling out,” they do admit that this new approach is part of an emerging business model:
Mr. Faida has left open the possibility that some big Web sites will pay his start-up as part of the new service; small sites will never be charged, he said. In an e-mail [to the New York Times], he wrote: “In the long term, we of course have to think about how to make our movement sustainable — including larger Web sites that will increase their revenues by partnering with us in the costs of maintaining the project seems to be a way that will work.”
I’ve never been a fan of Adblock Plus. We all love the free-ness of the web’s content, which means advertising is generally the sole source of income for the content creators. Consuming the content without the commercials feels, to me, kinda like stealing. Don’t get me wrong, I dislike advertising that’s annoying, deceptive or poorly crafted as much as anyone else. But indiscriminate ad-blocking punishes the good alongside the bad.
Adblock’s new system gives advertisers a path to redemption. Make better ads, they say, and we won’t turn you off. It’s an approach — like Google’s Adwords algorithm or Digg’s DiggAds product, both of which get more expensive for advertisers that are less popular with users — that reinforces what our brains (to some degree) do anyway, block out the bad ads. Why build technology that will bankrupt free media, when instead you can give users tools to ignore, and/or direct their hostility at, only the lame advertisers? With the latter scheme you may end up with better ads and better-funded free content at the same time.