Saturday, September 12, 2015

Family Tech: Don’t block online ads – they help pay for free content - September 12, 2015

Apple’s pending IOS 9 – and Howard Stern’s big mouth – have conspired to bring on what many fear will be a radical change to free content on the web.

How many websites do you pay to use? Probably none, although hopefully you subscribe to the Prince William Today so you get unrestricted access to And maybe you pay for a couple of the national newspapers as well.

Other than that, the content and services most of us appreciate such as Facebook, Google, Google Docs, Google Keep, Google Drive and others are free.

Much of the content is free because it is supported by advertisements. For the cost of seeing a few ads along the way, we get to connect with friends, create documents, make lists, store files and much more.

What Apple has done is put hooks into the upcoming IOS 9, the operating system for iPhones and iPads, which allows users to install apps to the Safari browser that will block ads.

You will still see the web pages as you normally would, but without ads.

Sounds great, until you consider the unintended consequences.

Ad blocking has been around for quite a while on PCs, but not all that well known or used outside of techies. That’s where Howard Stern comes in.

On his Aug. 25 radio show a caller responded to his on-air complaints about seeing ads online, by telling him about ad blocking software. The 61-year-old Stern had never heard of it. And probably much of his audience, average age of 47, hadn’t heard of it until then either.

So what had been a quiet secret of techies was pushed more into the open.

And now Apple is going to make it easy to block ads on iPhones.

I suspect if you asked Apple officials why they were doing this, they’d tell you that it was to make a better experience for their users.

They didn’t have that concern when they introduced their own ad sales network, iAd.

Cynics suspect it is because iAd has not been able to challenge the Google AdWords behemoth. Google ad sales are so immense they can pour the profit back into the services we use for free such as Drive, Docs, Keep, Calendar, Gmail, etc. They are also for futuristic and attention grabbing things like self-driving cars and efforts to extend human lifespans.

And if Apple can take a chunk of profits away from websites maybe it can force websites to instead create apps for the iPhone. The ads in apps will not be blocked and development tools for creating iPhone apps make it very easy to monetize with ads from, yes, Apple’s own iAd.

And if arch competitor Google loses a bunch of income, well…

I have never used ad-blocking software. I feel to do so is violating the social contract with the sites I find useful. Not seeing the ads they sell to pay their staff, and pay for their servers and bandwidth is, in my opinion, stealing.

Some sites have broken that contract too by having invasive popover ads that are hard to eliminate, or self-running video ads with the sound cranked up. And some ads for products do not have a simple close button, but ones to make you feel guilty. For example an ad for discount cruises have buttons that say “Learn More,” or “I prefer to pay full price.” If site ads irritate me, I don’t block them. I just never go back to the site.

You could say I have a dog in this hunt, and that’s true. This newspaper relies on ads, and its online counterpart,, has online ads. Without this income, there wouldn’t be news coverage from the professionals at Prince William Today covering our community. This is a freelance job for me, and I could finance Family Tech in other ways, but the column wouldn’t be part of an important civic component.

If ad income, already challenging as a monetization strategy, takes a major hit, some sites will disappear and the survivors will have try new strategies. One appearing more and more is ads that look like articles on news sites. While labeled as an ad, the label is not noticed by many readers who think they are reading a review of a new car, instead of an article written by the car company itself, for which the site was paid to publish.

Or maybe micropayments might take off. You might see an article on how to repair a broken pipe and have to pay 99 cents to read it. That is something I’d like to see. If you buy a magazine for $6, and find three of the articles in it useful, you are already paying $2 an article. Why not take that strategy online?

Micropayments could be a great way to encourage writers to generate informative articles, investigative pieces, short stories and even the most niche products will find an audience who will support them financially.

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