Content blockers and a spanking new frontier

Yesterday was interesting.

iOS 9 was released, and content blockers emerged from beta. A few thoughts:

As is usually the case, approval by the App Store is unpredictable. First in does not necessarily translate to first out. In the list of content blockers we posted yesterday (still updating the list, by the way, so ping me if I’ve missed any), almost half of them are still not live on the App Store.

As a nod to fairness, maybe put a note on your calendar to check the content blockers next week when, hopefully, they’ll all be in place. In the meantime, read this post from one of the “first in and not yet out” developers.

Did you know that this content blocker is now the #1 paid app on the App Store? Sign o’ the times.

As David Smith said in this tweet:

The way the iOS Ad Blocker market shakes out is going to be an interesting study for the modern App Store. New, in-demand, relatively easy.

Perfectly put. In their most basic form, content blockers are relatively easy to build. There are tutorials out there that will walk you through the process of pulling one together. In fact, here’s an open source blocker you can dig into.

The challenge comes with adding form and function. Will your app simply offer installation instructions or will it offer more, like the ability to edit a white list of sites? Will you provide useful share extensions, a la Peace? How about some new feature that no one has yet implemented?

The fact that content blockers are brand spanking new, yet immediately in great demand (quite possibly, a product that every single iOS user will want) means an incredible opportunity for developers.

This is pretty rare. A brand new frontier has just opened up. Come and get it!

  • Stephen Middlehurst

    Tried both Crystal and Peace and frankly the results are fairly shocking. Pretty much every site I tried is noticeably quicker to load while some are night and day. The Verge, f’instance, went from around 7 seconds to under 3!

    Talking of which, The Verge really doesn’t get it IMO. They’ve got another article about this today, this time focusing on Peace, and it’s frankly appalling. They make very sure to mention Marco’s “ill-fated subscription magazine”, say it’s ad-blocking “at a price”, publish Marco’s reasoning behind using ad-blockers but ignore those arguments and finish on a definitive “Arment is charging money for an app that, effectively, takes away ad revenue from publishers — money required to create the free content that readers crave.”

    All that kinda misses the point. When your ad business relies on serving 8Mb of additional garbage on top of a 1.5Mb page something is fundamentally broken. When a simple ad-blocker can halve the time taken to load your page things you’ve taken an active decision to work against the best interests of your customers. Of course there will always be compromises but that’s way out of line. When things reach that stage of course your readers, even those that think ad revenue is a fair trade for views, are going to start pushing back. Instead of realising this and engaging it seems that some sites (typically the worst offenders) are going to dig their heels in and go on the offensive. Which can only end well, right?

    • Moeskido

      I’m thankful for sites like this one, which more often than not, save me a trip to sites like The Verge.

    • Which one did you prefer?

      • phatkatmeow

        Crystal, it’s free, does the job, doesn’t inject anything, and I see no reason to pay for something just because it’s from marco.

  • thmuders

    A long time ago, when Adblock first came out, I also was reluctant to install it. I had a rather slow connection them. When a web page loaded slowly, I usually saw something like “waiting for …” in the browser status bar. That was the tipping point for me. I installed an ad blocker, instant speedup!

    The advertising can be annoying, but the slowdown was the reason for me. Unfortunately my iPhone is too old to be able to use content blockers (still on iPhone 5)

  • ZanzibarJoe

    Full City, LLC should give The Loop a taste. I bought Peace thanks to the review I read here:

  • freediverx

    “The Verge really doesn’t get it IMO. They’ve got another article about this today, this time focusing on Peace, and it’s frankly appalling. “

    These days, the Verge is run by a bunch of hacks, and Nilay Patel is their star jackass. Not only does he never “get it”, but he is extraordinarily pompous when demonstrating his cluelessness. His latest cringeworthy piece is almost as bad as the one he wrote for the Apple Watch, when he executed an awkwardly self-conscious shaving of his wrist to model the device while wearing a cheesy spiked bracelet seemingly procured from the nearest Hot Topic as an expression of his revolt against “the man”.

    It takes a monumental degree of tone deafness to defend the status quo of web advertising today, and Nilay Patel is just the sort of dope who’s willing to do it.

    • phatkatmeow

      It’s why I stopped going there 🙂 I Just don’t support it – they’d report with link-bait of a mushroom growing if they could swing it with a tech angle just to sell ads

  • lkalliance

    I find myself a little on the fence on this issue. There are several arguments, and each of them can be reasonably defended:

    (1) Ads are how many sites make money. If you go to those sites and block their ads, you’re stealing their content. (2) Ads are intrusive and tracking is wrong. Publishers should find a different model. (3) We the users aren’t given a chance to determine what is on the page before we’ve loaded the page (the Marco Arment argument). (4) We the publishers have very little power in dictating what ads get served, we just code in Doubleclick and there you go.

    The thing is, each of these arguments can also be reasonably attacked.

    In the wake of all this in the past day, I find myself revisiting my relationship to various sites I visit frequently. Some, like Daring Fireball and The Loop, are easy: they already strive to keep advertising relevant and less in-your-face. I don’t block them, and try to, every so often, follow ad links if I find the product interesting but not must-buy-now.

    But those are the easy ones. Consider The Verge. I do visit, I do read. It’s much more pleasant now that they’ve turned off comments. I actually feel strongly about argument number (1) above: if I block the ads, I’m stealing their content. I don’t feel comfortable with that. I could just block the ads and continue to enjoy the content.

    I’ve decided instead to no longer visit the site. The intrusive ads and the trackers mean the costs of going to the site are higher than what I feel is the benefit of the site.

    If I was going before, why not continue and just not block the ads? They didn’t prevent me from going before. I guess I am just thinking harder about it today, and coming to a different conclusion.

    • Johnny Styler

      as a graphic designer i have to produce ads who will destroy your reading experience in sites like verge and so on. i am not forced by my boss do do that, but the clients and the advertising dealers are pushing ad formats beyond the goodness, and i cant do anything against that cause of stupid marketing guys.

      i am realy happy that i as a reader got the chance to make a point against the ad madness with a content blocker.

      believe me, only a punishment like ad blocking can bring the industry to rethink her behavior. this greedy people do not understand otherwise.

      there are two arguments which are very strong. 1. UX destroying ads are not good for the advertised company or product. the reader will just hate it. 2. these ads are allmost only cash burning vehicles. the hole industry knows that the benefit from them is minimal.

      the marketing guys are supposed to do something and instead of thinking and make some good ads they are giving this part of the job to the adpublishers, who are only interesting to get the cash. so they sell bullshit formats to incompetent marketing guys. tata done. the boss thinks the brand will get resonable, the marketing guy got the job done, the adpublisher sold the place at the verge.

      please install and visit any page with adblockers. i beg you. be a part of this tiny revolution and let us hope they get the hint.

      ps. sorry for my bad english and limited vocabulary.

      • lkalliance

        That makes sense, too: it’s not necessarily the site publisher that’s at fault…he’s just dropping in AdWorks or whatever, and has little sway, perhaps, over the ad publishers.

        But I can really do three things:

        (1) Decide that a site I frequent is responsibly putting up ads I that don’t degrade the experience. I can leave those ads on.

        (2) Decide that a site I frequent is putting up ads that DO degrade the experience, and block them and keep visiting.

        (3) Decide the same thing I decided in (2)…only instead of (or in addition to) blocking, I don’t visit any more.

        It’s number (2) that’s the problem in my mind. I know others will feel differently, but I do feel I’m stealing from the site publisher. I’m still making a stand, though: he’s still not getting my ad views. But I feel better about it.

        (BTW there’s another class: a site with onerous ads that I pay for otherwise. I pay an annual fee to be an ESPN Insider. I don’t mind blocking the ads on their site…I’m already paying them!)

        • phatkatmeow

          in my opinion if your company relies on income from third party content, rather than what you yourself make, and doesn’t have multiple way of monetizing it, they’re doing something wrong. Guess their content just isn’t that good.

          • lkalliance

            That’s neither here nor there. When a site has ads you find are more of a negative than the content is a positive, you have three options: (1) Go ahead and read the site (put up with the ads), (2) Use an ad blocker to reduce your annoyance cost, or (3) Don’t visit the site.

            It’s my feeling that (2) is shady and unethical, and you should do (3).

            That a publisher lets a site get to that state is beside the point I’m making.

  • sl149q

    The problem is that publishers don’t see the cost of delivery of their advertising. Like email spam there is little to no cost to throw in a few more lines of JavaScript to pull another ad from another ad delivery service.

    But the consumers do see the cost. Download costs (especially for mobile) for the extra data. Longer time to load. Harder to read with ad’s cluttering the page. Etc etc.

    At the very least if this pushes publishers to convert 2nd and 3rd party ads to first party by (minimally proxying or caching) the delivery through their own site it will provide them with a better idea of the cost.

    Moving more content to first party delivery allows protocols like SPDY to shine and optimize delivery. Faster and less bits (through compression.)

    The message to publishers is take control of the data you want people to look at. Deliver it yourself.

    The message to advertisers is to develop alternate mechanisms to ensure your ads are being delivered through first party sites. Ad blocking of crappy delivery mechanisms means that your choice is no ads or delivery as a first party ad.

    • John Fallon

      With peace, it’s easy to whitelist sites ( as I just did for this site). I don’t mind an honest relevant ad, or subscribing. I don’t buy gadgets so I can see 80 percent of their CPU and battery go to running Javascript traps pretending to be ads.

  • John W

    Surely there’s a market for an ethical ad-serving company with strictly enforced standards that limit their advertising’s effect on user experience. If such a company could, by virtue of treating site viewers decently, negotiate to have their advertising included on white lists, they’d be able to command premium ad rates, ensure brands get their money’s worth, keep the revenue stream for content producers and not piss off the people who actually want to see the content. It’s surprising no one does this. Surely it would be a profitable enterprise for all involved.

  • My opinion on ads is probably not what blogger’s want to hear. But I contend that relying on ads is fine but, for crying out loud, take some responsibility.

    Just plugging in code from some third party is lazy and disrespectful of your audience. Living off your blog is to be self-employed. That means wearing many hats as a business owner, including your own marketing. So get real. I’m almost 50 and I’ve got no problem supporting content creators that I repeatedly comeback to. I pay monthly to artists/creators that draw pictures or I buy their stuff and help market them just because I like what they do and what they publish (I’ve been doing it over 10 years).

    Their sites are nice to me.

    If you can’t make a living with minimal, non-intrusive advertising then your content isn’t worth it. I’m sorry, it’s just not. What little money you bring in is damaging any goodwill you’re developing with your readers. The cost/benefit ratio is out of whack. So you might as well make your content free.

    I have no problem with ads, I see ads thru The Loop, Daring Fireball, and Six Colours. I allow any static ad that doesn’t pester me.

    Bottom line is, if I like your stuff, I’ll share it or pay for it some way. If you paint your site with garbage that’s tracking me, I’ll block it. Always. That’s me being an informed responsible consumer. Respect me and I’ll respect you. Deal?