I often use an ad blocker with my web browser. I do this not because I hate seeing ads. I block ads because I can’t take the performance hit.
Running an ad blocker, or using Firefox’s tracking protection, makes the web responsive again and a pleasure to use. Sites load fast, navigation is smooth, everything is just better in terms of performance when the ads and their scripts are removed from the web.
I don’t like the idea, though, that I’m depriving lots of great independent sites (some of them run by friends) of their ad revenue. Unfortunately, Ads have grown worse and worse over the last decade. They are now just too much load, physically and cognitively and the current state is unsustainable. Users are going to move to ad blockers if web sites and the big ad networks don’t clean up their act.
Sure, everyone moving to ad blockers would make the web feel speedy again, but it would probably mean we all lose a lot of great ad-supported content on the Web and that’s not a great outcome. One of the wonderful things about the web is the long-tail of independent content it makes available to the world — mostly supported by ads.
I think we can find a middle ground that sees ad-tech pull back to something that still generates reasonable returns but doesn’t destroy the experience of the web. I think we can reverse the flow of people off of the web into content silos and apps. But I don’t see that happening without some browser intervention. (Remember when browsers, Firefox leading the pack, decided pop-ups were a step too far? That’s the kind of intervention I’m thinking of.)
I’ve been thinking about what that could look like and how it could be deployed so it’s a win for publishers and users and so that the small and independent publishers especially don’t get crushed in the escalating battle between users and advertising networks.
Web publishers and readers both want sites to be blazing fast and easy to use. The two are very well aligned here. There’s less alignment around tracking and attention grabbing, but there’s agreement from both publishers and readers, I’m sure, that slow sites suck for everyone
So, with this alignment on a key part of the larger advertising mess, let’s build a feedback loop that makes the web fast again. Browsers can analyze page load speed and perhaps bandwidth usage, figure out what part of that comes from the ads, and when it crosses a certain threshold warn the user with a dialog something like “Ads appear to be slowing this site. Would you like to block ads for a week?”
If deployed at enough scale, sites would quickly see a drop-off in ad revenue if their ads started slowing the site down too much. But unlike current ad-blockers, sites would have the opportunity and the incentive to fix the problem and get the users back after a short period of time.
This also makes the ad networks clearly responsible for the pain they’re bringing and gets publishers and readers both on the same side of the debate. It should, in theory, push ad networks to lean down and *still* provide good returns and that’s the kind of competition we need to foster.
What do you all think? Could something like this work to make the web fast again? (Thanks to Ben Ford for some wording help.)