Best writing about ad blocking, so far

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There has been an astounding amount of writing about ad avoidance since the release of iOS 9, much of it has been informative, but a great deal of it has been quite speculative and not very well grounded in the history of online ad avoidance (which does go back decades, and has been, of course, quite popular both for desktop systems and for Android).

Nonetheless, there is some good writing on the topic, what ad avoidance means and where things are likely to develop in the near future. So if you don’t have time to wade through all the analyses and commentary about this new wave of ad avoidance (maybe to be called Ad Avoidance 2.0?), these are some of the articles not to miss, in no particular order:

  • Cory Doctorow: “How to save online advertising” – Cory makes excellent points about how the awfulness of web ads, including their egregious tracking behavior, really comes from the intense lack of trust between advertisers and publishers. Nobody trusts anybody else to report honestly, and so they insist on tracking, which only makes the whole experience worse for the most important group in the process, the readers.

  • Matt Yglesias: “The ad blocking controversy, explained” – A great synthetic overview of what has driven the trend towards ad blocking and how publishers are reacting. What makes this piece especially strong is how it builds on a previous excellent article by Yglesias, “The web browser saved Apple, but Apple is over the web browser.” The first piece really does an excellent job of laying out the deeper movements by Apple that underscore the shift away from the web to apps. It struck me particularly, because as someone who does not use apps all that much for my mobile web consumption, I was surprised by just how idiosyncratic my online behavior appears to be.

  • Ben Thompson: “Popping the Publishing Bubble” – A great, in depth look at all the competing incentives and rewards built structurally into the web, and how the shift from the open web to platforms, particularly Facebook, is likely to be devastating to publishers. Ad blocking is more of a symptom than a cause in this analysis, as consumer aggregation leaves old publishing/advertising models and moves to social platforms that have a very different relationship to their users.

  • Eric A. Meyer: “Content Blocking Primer” – The guru of great web design reminds everybody that the ads are only a small part of the problem, in fact, it is the whole bloated web in general that is the real issue. Better design, true user-focused design principles would never have allowed us to get into the situation we are in presently. Just as the revolt over pop-up ads twenty years ago made clear just what readers will and will not tolerate, the ad blocking tsunami is laying it out for today’s designers. Get your sh*t together or your readers will do it for you.

  • Horace Dediu: “How quickly will ads disappear from the internet?” – Less of an analysis of the mechanics of ad blocking itself, but a fascinating discussion of how (or if) the phenomenon will spread. Through the pull of fed-up users or the push of asymetrically aligned platforms? Dediu is always interesting, although his perspective really does illustrate the complete centrality of Apple to US based technology analysis. It’s as if the story did not exist before Apple decided to get involved…

  • Dave Winer: “Advertising is unwanted” – Short, pithy, but gets to important points, that the exchange of information online is about much more than just traditional advertising-supported publishing models. We forget that too often, but the move of journalism, for example, to the internet should not obscure all the other ways communication takes place online, and not just social media.

  • John C. Dvorak: “What Ad Blockers Will Really Do to the Internet” – You can always count on Dvorak to be both historically informed and grouchy, and his true to himself here. He does remind his readers that ad blocking has existed since the first ad appeared online, and the current upsurge reflects earlier reactions to web annoyances. He is, in my opinion, far too focused on native advertising as the inevitable response to ad blocking, but I love his old school disdain for it!

  • John BattelleIt’s time to flip the bit on publishing and data” and Doc Searls, “Beyond ad blocking — the biggest boycott in human history” – I have been a big fan of Doc Searls, and his notion of VRM (“vendor relationship management”) for quite some time, and both he and John Battelle really get at an important point about ad avoidance and its relationship with user data. That is, until users and independent publishers, get a better model of control over their own data, they are both going to susceptible to the terrible kinds of practices as we have seen from the ad tech industry. It will be an uphill battle, but here is where the crucial developments are likely to take place if we are going to see a more judicious relationship between users and publishers/platforms.

Additionally, as a hardcore podcast listener, I had to include a couple good recent audio treatments of the ad avoidance upsurge. There have been quite a few podcasts on the subject, but few with particularly distinctive analyses. I did want to make sure to call out a couple, that are entertaining in the their own right.

  • Security Now from Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte over at TWiT. I’m a huge fan of the show generally, but have really enjoyed what Steve and Leo have been discussing in recent weeks, as they both have come to grips with ad blocking, each from their own perspective. Steve of course from the security and user perspective, while Leo from the publisher and technologist viewpoint. The one Security Now podcast not to be missed was a great in-depth look at the best desktop browser extension, uBlockOrigin. Highly recommended.

  • While not regular presence on my list of podcasts, but there was a great discussion at the CBC radio show Spark with Nora Young. Primarily I enjoyed the fact that it gave the one and only Ad Contrarian, Bob Hoffmann, a pulpit from which to preach his always enjoyable jeremiads against the current state of online advertising. Great show, and Bob’s blog is also a great read.

Finally, I want to make sure to mention a blog that has done an excellent job covering ad blocking for some time now, Nate Hoffelder’s The Digital Reader. I met Nate in a previous professional life, and have been reading his stuff for quite some time now. His perspective, as both a reader and a publisher is always of interest.

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