17 August 2007
This evening I checked out a website (http://planet.intertwingly.net) which had linked to my Acura mobile computing blog and, while there, noticed an interesting article on a recent attempt by site owners to block visitors using the Firefox web browser from accessing their sites. Their protest stems from the fact that one of the many available plugin extensions for Firefox, the AdblockPlus extension, allows internet users to free their web browsing experience of intrusive and often resource exploitative advertisements. These sites have begun to employ various blocking scripts, essentially user-agent sniffers, to detect the Firefox browser and prevent access to the page and its content. The rationale (I apply the term loosely) is that these sites are losing advertising revenue due to the fact that internet users who demand a clean and streamlined internet experience are avoiding the ads displayed on certain web sites.
Being a loyal Firefox user since the initial beta releases many (many) years back, and a naturally inquisitive person, I decided to check out the site which is, apparently, spearheading the effort and serving as a soapbox for all those site owners who feel they are being cheated by internet users who have the AdBlockPlus extension (myself included) installed.
Upon clicking the link to http://whyfirefoxisblocked.com/ I was met with a blank page. Interesting, I thought to myself. Let’s check this out in more detail… I bet they want me to wipe the dust off my Internet Explorer and access their site that way. Admit defeat? Go back to using Internet Explorer? Hardly. I simply opened a new tab in Firefox and went to Google. In the Google search field I entered the search term: site:whyfirefoxisblocked.com and then loaded the conveniently offered “cached” version of the page in question. It loaded smoothly in my AdBlockPlus-enabled copy of Firefox.
Among the claims made on that site is the following:
Software that blocks all advertisement is an infringement of the rights of web site owners and developers. Numerous web sites exist in order to provide quality content in exchange for displaying ads. Accessing the content while blocking the ads, therefore would be no less than stealing. Millions of hard working people are being robbed of their time and effort by this type of software.
While I find this viewpoint interesting, it is nonetheless misguided and carries with it a somewhat disturbing undertone. To say that the “rights” of web site owners are being infringed upon is ludicrous. Web site owners are free to litter their sites with ads in the same way as I am free to reject their ads, just as I am free to change the channel on my rarely watched television set when a commercial comes on. What they avoid admitting is the fact that the internet is, generally speaking, a free and open medium, and nobody can be forced to click on an ad whether it’s visible or not. A user who employs ad-blocking software will, in all likelihood, not click an ad whether he or she has ad-blocking software installed or not.
The most intriguing devil hidden in the details here is that it seems the “right” of a website owner to “force” ads on a reader (regardless of whether or not the reader will, or does, click on the ad) is of higher importance than that reader’s personal liberty to reject those same ads. If a site owner wishes to force his or her readership to be exposed to ads as a source of revenue, why not require payment in the form of a subscription to the site? Or is the real concern here that the content in question is not of sufficient quality to warrant a subscription fee or to coax the credit from a reader’s plastic card? Is the strategy being employed here one which offers dubious content for free with the expectation that mindless readers will click on shiny gleaming ads? Is what they’re really afraid of the fact that intelligent internet users won’t click on those ads anyway, so now their content, of questionable quality, has been rendered of no value?
The claim I found most interesting in the article, and one which singlehandedly tears a wide though conveniently unaddressed hole in their own argument, exposing the flaw in their rationale, is the following:
Demographics have shown that not only are FireFox users a somewhat small percentage of the internet, they actually are even smaller in terms of online spending, therefore blocking FireFox seems to have only minimal financial drawbacks, whereas ending resource theft has tremendous financial rewards for honest, hard-working website owners and developers.
Let’s look closely at this paragraph. Does it not disprove their own claim that their rights are being infringed? If Firefox users are such a small percentage of internet users (shall we say, the far right of the bell curve?), and they tend to not spend a lot of money on the internet (are not decadent consumers), then are these web site owners really losing as much revenue as they claim to be losing? After all, if these Firefox users were still able to access these sites, they wouldn’t be, as the article’s own demographics mention, be clicking on those ads anyway, right?
The issue here speaks to the general mindset of a consumer/market economy run amok. It conjures in me visions of a dark future in which commercials and media feeds are hardwired into our brains via some sort of broadband advertising umbilicus, in which the purveyors of those advertisements make those advertisements unavoidable. Perhaps the solution is to assign every broadband user, when they sign their broadband contract, a shadowy figure in trench coat and hat, who stands behind us as we surf the web, pointing a gun at our heads, making sure we click on ads? This smacks of a sinister mentality of control and begs the question of whether content is created by these web sites for the benefit of its readership or only to generate the ad revenue of which they claim they are being cheated.
The site goes on to say that “the makers of Ad Block Plus as well as the filter subscriptions that accompany it refuse to allow website owners control over their own intellectual property". To this I say, resoundingly, “Nonsense!” Website owners are, unquestionably, in control of their intellectual property. It is on their website, is it not? They’re free to put it up or take it down, and the third-party ads which litter their sites are not the intellectual property of the site owners anyway. They are the “intellectual” property of the third-party advertisers. The fact that web site owners choose to place their own intellectual property in a public medium, the internet, is perhaps their real problem, and their attitude again seems to be one that says “You owe me something and the shadowy figure standing behind you is going to make sure you click that ad.” The real intellectual property at stake here is our minds… we who exercise our personal liberty and choose not to be deluged by a flood of ads for, in the words of Tyler Durden, “Shit we don’t really need.”
To make the argument that this move to block Firefox users is, in fact, a move to end resource theft is single-minded and suffers from tunnel vision as it focuses on a single tree in the forest. An important statistic in their demographics which I noticed curiously missing is the one which shows the percentage of users of other web browsers and the subset of those users who also do not, ever, click on ads even when they are visible on the screen. Nonetheless, if Firefox users are such a small percentage, and they tend to not click ads to begin with, then how have these site owners lost anything when Firefox users block advertisements? Furthermore, how have site owners gained anything in blocking Firefox users? By blocking Firefox users, have the rest of their visitors using other browsers somehow inexplicably begun to click on more ads as though some cosmic balancing act were at play behind the scenes? Surely, I think, not.
So, I ask again, what is the point? All they’ve done is cut down on traffic and any of these so-called hard-working website owners will tell you that, just as “location, location, location” is the mantra of the Real Estate world, “traffic, traffic, traffic” is the mantra of any corporate website. Blocking traffic, any traffic, from your site is shooting yourself in the foot, because in the end it’s not primarily about the number of ads for useless garbage your visitors click on or don’t click on while on your site, it’s about the amount of traffic which comes into your site, which is tracked by the major search engines and aggregators. Less inbound traffic leads to lower page ranks which leads to lower listings in the engines which leads to even less inbound traffic which, when all is said and done, teaches a hard lesson about spite.
edited on 13 September 2007: Users of Internet Explorer who do not wish to see ads during their web-browsing experience will be happy to know there is now a free ad blocker for Internet Explorer, which means that sites blocking Firefox will, by their own pseudo-logic, now have to block Internet Explorer as well, won’t they?
or, What my speakers are currently pumping…
Monster Magnet - Monolithic
This post is the creative work of Yours Truly and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Firefox, adblock, personal freedom, liberty, intellectual property, rights, revenue, consumerism, quality content, ads, traffic