Makeuseof takes on ad-blockers and ad-blockers respond by taking on advertising

Makeuseof is a website that describes itself as:

a booming daily blog that features cool websites, computer tips, and downloads that make you more productive. The aim of MakeUseOf is to guide you through the web and tell you about hot websites that you have never heard of, best software programs, and all kinds of “how to” tips for Windows, Mac and Linux computer users.

It is not a website I read these days, but at some point in the past I would look at it from time to time.

A while back, a developer for their site, James Bruce, wrote an opinion piece on ad-blockers and related software and services. He did not endorse them. The article received quite a bit of feedback, much of which I read. Below are some of the responses I felt were worth sharing.

James’ original article can be found here: makeuseof.com/tag/adblock-noscript-ghostery-trifecta-evil-opinion/

Arrow:

Today’s advertising model involves intentionally degrading the user’s experience- the user only wants to see the text of the article, the ads want him to see only the ads. And it’s not just displaying ads, but tracking the user’s behavior through “anonymous user data”, a concept which has been debunked. Furthermore, as users we don’t have any control over what “anonymous” data you collect, what you do with it after you collect it, or how long you keep it, or have any way to correct errors. Furthermore, you have no legal responsibility to safeguard any of this data.

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morrisson swift:

I read this article as sympathetically as possible (I don’t want to see anyone’s livelihood crushed) and have followed the replies with interest. Thank you for providing the perspective and forum. I nevertheless, having done so, still feel the matter is extremely cut and dry: if the best motivation a site/author can provide for users to willingly submit themselves to–(i) the perceptual/mental overhead of ignoring ads, or (ii) the overhead of continually re-educating themselves on how much risk s/he may be incurring by exposing her/his browser to ads–is that they ought to do so because that’s how writers get paid, I can’t blame the user for choosing not to. It’s very simple: people will always act in what they perceive to be their own best interests.

You could possibly demonstrate that blocking ads is not in users’ best interests, but if that’s really true, I think the onus is on you to figure out how to make that obvious to them, rather than castigating them for taking what strongly appears to be the easy way out of incurring that overhead. If you’re considering this essay to be that demonstration, I’m sorry to say that I still feel, like many before me in this thread, that the business model as it currently exists seems like a bad deal for both writer and reader. And “if you don’t like the business model, you come up with another one” isn’t a legit response to that: my optimal model is currently to block your ads, and until there is a different transaction model that leaves an even better taste in my mouth, I’m sticking with it.

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FreedomOverMoney:

“We believe strongly in a free content model – whereby we provide free, high quality, full content to you with no restrictions – in exchange for showing you advertising.”

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but this sentence demonstrates that there are clear gaps in your understanding of the concept “free content model”. It suggests to me that you don’t realize that *having to deal with advertising is a cost*. Commercials are a cost. Pop-up ads are a cost. Anything that distracts from desired content is a cost. The “free content model” applies only to content which is *actually free*, i.e., without cost. If you can’t afford a site on your own external income, that is not an issue of your readers — it’s yours. In a perfect world we would all like to be paid, stay-at-home internet bloggers but most of us can’t be, and that’s fine. Just like people can’t walk around being philosophers anymore expecting to get paid. There are a lot of jobs that simply aren’t fiscally feasible, that’s just the way things are. No shame in that.

Feel free to paint my words in any light you desire (“pedantic”, “semantics” debate, etc.), but it doesn’t change the fact that ads are most definitely a cost. Sure, any single ad isn’t much, but over dozens of pages loads and several sites visited each day, the increased load time and distraction can add up. Put most simply: if they aren’t a cost, why are people blocking them?

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A concerned citizen:

That being said, it isn’t really your place to tell the user what s/he should or should not be doing with their browser and their web experience. It’s not your business. If you really want to put out free content, then it should be on your dollar, not mine, or it isn’t really free. Claiming that I’m not really paying anything by having to view ads is ridiculous. It takes extra time to load all of those worthless, malware-vector spam images. It takes time to load a lot of heavy js. Time is money, and my time is just as valuable as yours. The problem with these ads and malicious tracking cookies and javascript/flash/java exploits is that they are underhanded, and take advantage of unwitting users without any background in web technologies. They didn’t sign up to be tracked or monetized, and, even if they did, in most cases didn’t understand the full implications of doing so. This is a pervasive social problem, and you are only fueling the problem. You shouldn’t claim things are free when you are really just hiding the real price.

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Loco:

Pure irony. The whole point of advertising is to psychologically manipulate people into buying products they don’t want. This is pretty close to “evil” yet the article attempts inversion to suggest that actually avoiding this is the moral failing.

As for stealing, I know this was intended as hyperbole but the article does strongly suggest the author thinks that way. The fact is sites have chosen a business model whereby they offer free content in the hope that ads will net some user interest and indirect revenue. Viewing the ads is in no way part of the business contract with the user and blocking them is no more stealing than is skipping a page of ads in a newspaper or accepting a free sample of food with no intention to buy the product. Blocking ads is the modern equivalent of changing TV channels during a commercial break.

There’s always an “implied” contract when the party doing the implying knows they could never get the other party to sign any such agreement.