The WELL is a virtual online community with user-generated content that was so influential, it was once featured on the cover of Wired magazine, and a top 80’s UK pop star created an account, to promote his brand there. (Sound familiar?) As you might have read last week, corporate owner Salon.com laid off the WELL staff and is now looking for a buyer. Now the WELL’s last users (it still has over 2,000 subscribers) are making a last-minute bid to buy the WELL from Salon: A thread called “Would you kick in $1,000 for The Well?” (subscriber account required), has already garnered over 120 members pledging $1000 (some less, many more, with at least one pledge of $10,000), for an estimated total of over $120,000. That’s a lot of money, especially coming from so few people, but it may not be enough. Many have pointed out that the Well.com domain name is probably quite attractive to organizations willing to pay a lot to own it. (For example, an HMO who wants turn well.com into a wellness resource.) So at the moment, it’s still unclear what this user-driven campaign will do, though I hope the WELL can survive in some form.
It it seems like so many sites are just getting so bad with road-blocks and screen hogging ads. It’s getting like it was in the late 90s and early 2000s, with pop-ups. You’d go to a page and you’d get 3 or 4 pop-ups. And now pop-up blockers are built into all browsers, basically. So that’s not even a viable form of advertising any more. So I expect ad-blockers will become a standard part of browsers – I just don’t know how companies are going to expect to profit from advertising in the future.
Shortly after that interview was conducted, Apple announced it was integrating the browser plugin Readability into Safari.
Screenshot from the big sloppy blowjob Ad-Age gave Apple for Reader
Apple is simultaneously shipping ad-blocking technology in its browser and entering the advertising market. Some, such as Ars Technica’s Ken Fisher cried foul:
So the company that has made an advertising platform a major part of its iOS strategy is also hawking an ad-blocking technology for its Web browser, where it has no stake in ads. App Store: use our unblockable ads, developers! They help you get paid for your hard work! Web: hey, block some ads, readers! They’re annoying!
Chris Arkenberg noted “Apple’s iAd/ad-block duality underscores their anti-Flash agenda. If they can’t own & control the platform, they will try to crush it.”
Certainly this is relevant, especially if Apple doesn’t offer the ability to block its own iAds in apps. And readers of this site know I’m no fan of Apple’s strong-arm control tactics. But it’s worth noting that Reader/Readability is a different sort of ad-blocker.
It loads the full page, ads and all, and then gives the reader the option of blocking ads while they read the content. This means, for impression driven advertising, that sites still get their pageviews – and advertisers still get some exposure, if for only a few seconds.
Fisher notes this, but worries about articles split up into multiple pages. Sites might not be able to get pageviews for each and every single one of those pages. Cry me a fucking river! The content industry (of which I’m now very much a part, now being a writer for ReadWriteWeb) is on the verge of having the rug pulled out from under it by ad-blockers, and you’re worried that you might not be able to tack on a few extra pageviews for longer content? (Some sites already let you hit “single page” or view a printer friendly version if you don’t want to click through multiple pages.) We’re going to be goddamn lucky if readers stick to Readability and don’t go all out with Ad-Block Plus – or both.
The good news for both advertisers and content providers is that only 40% of Facebook readers say they dislike ads. And I’d guess Facebook users are fairly representative sample of the Internet. That means that unless browsers start shipping with an Ad-Block Plus-like ad blocker, we can expect that at least 60% of Internet users won’t bother to install an ad-blocker more aggressive than Readability.
But Facebook’s ads are pretty unobtrusive, unlike Salon’s monstrous screen hogging ads that try to drive you off the Internet and back onto paper. Considering 40% of Facebook users are annoyed by Facebook’s relatively tiny ads, the number of readers annoyed by “road block” ads and those “Congratulations, you’ve just been selected to receive a free iFuck-in-Ass” ads are probably more in the 98-99% range (the other 1-2% are too stupid to realize those road-blocks and fake contests are ads). Those really obtrusive ads could ruin it for everyone – they’re what finally drove me to install Ad-Block Plus, something I resisted for years.
Advertisers and publishers need to forget about being able to monetize every single pageview and focus on offering unobtrusive and highly targeted advertising – and ostracize anyone who tries to push obnoxious advertising on the web before browser makers start including real ad-blocks by default.