How the Democracy that is the Internet will Solve Ad Blocking Software

Tim Berners-Lee has said that the open, democratic nature of the internet has been crucial to its growth and is critical to its future. “Close to the principle of universality is that of decentralisation, which means that no permission is needed from a central authority to post anything on the web, there is no central controlling node, and so no single point of failure.”

That means that, not only are we free to post online, we are free to block or ignore content. Just as offline, where people have been showing that they are tired of traditional above-the-line and out of home marketing, more people are installing ad blocking software as a way to focus their attention on the online content they want.

With the release of the iOS 9 software update for the most popular line of mobile devices last year and the ability to add content filters into its default internet browser (Safari), some publishers were concerned about potential revenue losses and ‘the slow death of the web’ as a result – an over-exaggeration. But ad blocking isn’t new; it has been around (Adblock Plus, 2006) for over ten years. Publishers have been well aware of it, and the smart ones have been making changes accordingly to find a form of economic sustainability that works for their business and customer base.

Because the internet is an open platform, the solutions can come from anyone, anywhere. If content producers don’t find ways to build sustainable channels, then others will. These may not be media companies.

 

The businesses who will thrive past ad blocking are those built on the core principles of the internet: innovation, equality and the ability for users to mold their experiences.

 

Ad blockers give users a degree of control over which adverts they do see. There will continue to be back and forth between ad-blockers/content filters and publishers to reach a satisfactory middle ground.

 

A screenshot of the Gizmodo website showcasing an example of an ad blocker notice.

An example of a publisher identifying ad blocking software.

 

What ad-blocking means for web analytics

More drastic changes will occur to web analytics as a result of content filtering/ad blocking. Anyone who implements or maintains web analytics software for a website will know that they miss a portion of data due to ad blockers or content filters such as Ghostery. There are also issues it can cause if you’ve embedded the tracking into processes on your website.

One way to work around this is to have tracking scripts and data hosted and sent on your site instead of utilizing third party websites (which is often how content filters/ad blockers detect tracking). You can also create a ‘shim’ to pass data back to your domain and then onto the third party provider.

Again, I see this as part of the natural ecosystem of the internet. Once website owners are losing significant traffic because their site returns the revenue required with ad blockers in place, they will innovate to find a solution (or perish). Open Source Javascript API’s such as Evercookie push the limit of user identification and tracking; spawned by the inadequacies of simple cookie tracking, which can easily be circumvented by users. In turn, this has seen the creation of tools (Am I Unique?) to determine if you are identifiable and ways to prevent it.

 

Open Source

At Mezzanine, we are strong proponents of the Open Source model. The universal, democratic, connected nature of the internet works with the Open Source approach to exponentially speed up the rate of software development. If we can share our thoughts and solutions, then we’ll find the ‘happy mediums’ for content and web tracking sooner.

For example, our Senior Developer, Karl has been part of an international Open Source project called ReSwift to provide Swift developers with a new approach and tools for managing application state, view, and change, with the concept based off another Open Source project Redux. The project launched in only a couple of months from the initial idea but would have taken years, if it happened at all, without this democratic, open environment.

 

The internet is a fluid, multifaceted, ubiquitous phenomenon. A few little content filters are not going to ‘break’ it.

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