Adblockers: The stable door is wide open

The future of the web.

iOS9 introduced adblocking and (maybe) the next great Internet battleground.

Adblockers have been around since the appearance of that first advert on Altavista in the mid nineties. So why is this so different?

Who are the new adblockers?

Well, for the last 20 years its been knowledgeable individuals (ycrta: geeks) avoiding intrusive adverts, mostly using the wasteful and invasive “Flash” platform. Today its everybody – with Adblockers some of the fatest selling apps of all time.

Universal adoption is still some way off but its gaining momentum and could catch-out the corporate world just as easily as the explosion of mobile did.

Tiny companies and individuals are getting super-wealthy building these new adblockers and they will use this new-found wealth to promote the use of adblocking technology and make it mainstream.

The cat is out of the bag, and it cannot go back in.

Is this the end of the free internet?

So very much of the Internet we use is advertising supported. I think we all know that Facebook, Google, Youtube, Twitter and the vast majority of the top sites in the UK rely more than 85% on ad-revenue.

As adblocking goes mainstream this traditional source of revenue dies and with it the “free internet” as without those ads, online publishers will have to find a new business model or go under. In the short-term, the options consist of:

  • Subscription services. Imagine paying for Facebook? But why not, if it’s that useful and manages (defines) your life.
  • Freemium model. Basic stuff is free but you pay a little bit more for better stuff. This could signal the start of the much feared two-speed web where the rich have it, and the poor are locked out.
  • Donations are a serious contender, Wikipedia uses them very effectively to maintain an ad-free existence.
  • Micro-payments. An emerging model based on the simpler relationship of “pay as you go” and usually the payment is so low as to be frictionless for most users.
  • Consentual data-supported. You agree to share your interests, income, demographics etc to companies in return for access to information. This will then be used to market to you, probably with some kind of “no-opt out” clause.

Usefully, it forces the whole industry to finally to look for a sustainable information-based business model – something we should have invented 20 years ago!

Why now?

For years the big data-gatherers such as Google and Facebook have danced around and over the privacy line – taking advantage and, in some cases, liberties with our private data. Long-gone is Google’s much-vaunted “Do no evil”.

They’re now large data machines endlessly ramming ad-content down our throats – we see between 50 and 100 banner adverts per day plus nearly twice that in ad-support content.

Privacy, too, is a huge driver. We often feel stalked around the web and even the most web-illiterate amongst us understands that cookies are not really for the benefit of the end-user.

So it was time for change. Or maybe it was going to happen anyway.

Apple is the first mainstream business to support adblocking and its interesting to speculate why. They’re currently in a super-massive struggle with Google, whilst suffering a creative/inventive drought.

Plus, Apple’s business model has no direct reliance on ad revenues whereas nearly 100% of Google’s income does. A more cynical man might suggest that Apple are trying to undermine the very foundation Google is built on.

An ad-free existence is really rather nice, I’ve been ad-free now on my iPad/iPhone for a few weeks and I can highly recommend it. I will continue to be ad-free, even though I know it may change the internet forever.

Eventually folks will realise that if you’re using ad-supported service such as Google or Facebook then “advertisers are the customers – and you’re the product.” to quote Tim Cook.

Its time for a change, and I suggest this one might sweep through the publisher space sooner and faster than many expect.