I Feel Bad About Running An Adblock But I Can’t Stop

Bloggers tend to have a complicated relationship with advertisements. For professional bloggers (i.e. those who make a living off this sort of thing), that’s the lifeblood of their profession. In fact, I’d go as far to say advertising is what’s created the Internet as we know it today (well, technically, the World Wide Web, but nobody seems to use that term anymore).

We expect to get content for free these days, but we also expect it to be of a professional quality. The days of some dude’s crappy Geocities page being the only source of information are long over; now, you can peruse hundreds of blogs written by people that, in a different decade, would be reporters for actual newspapers and the like. And advertising is what makes that happen.

And then there are the ad blockers. A brief description for the non-tech readers: an ad blocker is an app you can install, typically directly into your browser. It will scan the content of each page that you access and it will disable the various ads, pop-ups, sponsored content links, and other stuff that websites use to generate advertising revenue. The end result is that each page is decluttered from all the extra stuff that gets stuffed in there and it creates a cleaner, more enjoyable browsing experience.

For the user, there is no real downside. For content creators, however, there’s a huge downside, in that websites earn money by how often those ads they display are viewed and if people are blocking the ads, they’re not getting the page views, which means earning less money. It’s not a big loss if only a few people do it, but if enough users are blocking the ads, it can really hurt the content creator.

Aside from that, there’s a moral dimension as well: those ads are how creators get paid for their work. By blocking the ads, you’re getting the content for free, or at least, you’re not contributing to the creator getting paid. Is that stealing? You could make an argument that way. Certainly, I feel bad for using it. I feel like I’m taking advantage of the system.

Some creators get around it by moving to a subscription-based model; for a small fee, you get an ad-free experience and maybe some addition perks. For most people, there a likely a few sites that they use heavily enough where this is possible, but certainly not all of them; there’s just too much content out there.

Recently, I tried turning off my ab block to see if I could get by without it. The price of good content is a few ads, I told myself. After a week of browsing without an ad block, I was in a hurry to reactivate it.

It isn’t just that the ads are annoying or for things I don’t care about. They’re actively harmful to my experience on the site. The human eye is drawn to movement and so while I’d be trying to focus on reading a page, the videos would play or pictures would shift, and every time it happened, my concentration was broken for a moment as my gaze shifted to the thing. Not to mention the sheer visual clutter for most pages.

Compare that to the clean, quiet space created by an ad block and you’ll see why, regardless of feeling bad about using it, I was in a hurry to go back.

I don’t have a solution to the problem. It’s just something that I’m thinking about right now.

And for what it’s worth, I pay WordPress a small fee each year to keep ads off my site, so you’ll have an ad free experience here regardless if you use ad block or not. But I’m also a hobbyist blogger who doesn’t depend on the success of this site to eat, so it’s hardly a fair comparison.

3 thoughts on “I Feel Bad About Running An Adblock But I Can’t Stop”

  1. Interestly, I’ve been mulling on this for awhile also. I haven’t been able to bring myself to turn off Adblock on my personal computers, but on those computers that don’t have it (and I can’t install it), the ads make me want to toss my cookies. And I’m not talking about the ones the site puts on the computer…

    I’d like to believe that the Donate buttons work. I try to support bloggers I like (Brainpickings is one of my favorites that works this way). I suspect, however, that I’m kidding myself.

    Thanks for sparking further thinkiness in my braincase on this subject.

  2. So, I wrote this on your facebook, but I figured I’d put it here too.

    First off, PBS idea channel did an episode on this recently. If you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s worth a watch.

    Second, I had this idea of an automatic “tipping” service for sites that you could sign up for, let’s call it “SmartTip.” When you sign up for SmartTip, you set aside a small purse of donations that gets refilled monthly. Then you log in to a website and it sets up a cookie for you. When you go a SmartTip website, it if you are logged in to SmartTip, and takes a $0.10 donation automatically. In exchange, the site loads a version of the page with no ads whatsoever. This lasts for one month, at which point the site will either take another tip from you or start serving ads again.

    Anyone can sign up for SmartTip, but users have some power over whether you actually get payed or not.

    If you go to a SmartTip site and the site does not disable their ads, you can report the site for a refund. If SmartTip gets enough complaints about the site, they’ll investigate and suspend the site until they get their service in line. If the site breaks because of the blocked ads, for some reason, you can also report that.

    If you really like the site, you can also send a larger tip right there in the browser. Just hit the SmartTip button and choose how much to give the site’s creator.

    For the creator, this is great because $0.10 is way more than they get for the average unique visitor, and it would be easy to sign your site up. You wouldn’t need any sort of contracts or anything for it. For the user, they get all the benefits of adblock, plus peace of mind knowing they’re supporting creators.

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